2 February 2007

Ready or not, recycled sewage

| johnboy
Join the conversation

The Canberra Times has a story on the ACT’s responses to the great Googong water theft.

Raising the wall on the Cotter Dam is something that should have been done long ago but let’s not quibble. (Building a new dam in the Naas Valley now cannot be done because it’s a Liberal policy).

The enthusiasm for recycled water, however, puzzles me (aside from letting Jon Stanhope show us how powerful he is, yippee we get to be consulted before he does what he was going to do anyway, one ballot every four years for the supreme leader!).

Currently the good folk of Gundagai (and numerous other towns down the Murrumbidgee and eventually Murray Rivers) drink our recycled water without apparent harm, so no question it’s not a big deal.

But, er, currently the good people of Gundagai drink that water… and seem rather attached to living. Are we planning here for a situation where we cut off the environmental flows in the Murrumbidgee River?

UPDATED: The ABC has an interesting point from Richard Mulcahy.

Projected cost of drinking our own pee: $350,000,000 (side-effect: murdering residents of towns downstream)
Projected cost of building new dam: $160,000,000 (side-effect: kills lots of trees and fluffy animals in a valley 99% of Canberrans have no intention of ever visiting but might if there was a dam there)


ANOTHER UPDATE: A follow up piece in the Canberra Times shows the debate at the top is no more sensible than it is down here. I note that all parties are ignoring economics in this, which is almost always a tragic mistake when issues of supply, demand, and resource allocation are at the heart of the matter.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I came out some time ago, Mr_Shab, and admitted to the world that …that I suffered from OCD (specialties – germs and switches), not that
the world was very interested (frightful waste of media releases!).

If there’s any other OCD sufferers on this site I want them to know that here, hidden away from the harsh, brutal glare of the no-nonsense
scientific types, is a refuge where you can find solace and comfort, and puzzle over those switches that you turned off but, magically, and in your mad mind, turned back on as you fled for the bus!

And then there are those … those shiny metallic surfaces in toilets and kitchens that are home to colonies of e-coli and Mr and Mrs HEP and their disgusting children (A, B & C), not to mention HIV and her ugly sister!

For years I told my colleagues that I couldn’t eat the food they prepared at work because of a weird religion I belonged to that required
me to fast during the day, but really there was no way known to science or man that I was going to eat food touched by their foul fingers!

Fingers that had probably been up noses, sratched bums, wiped bums, retrieved tampons, cleaned ears, picked at scabs!

OCD can be debilitating and its sufferers need not scorn but tolerance and understanding and … and a fat disability pension!

I realise you’re all going to hate me for this but … a large part of your water supply is taken up with me washing my hands constantly. The water is then recycled but nevertheless I seem to pile up the suds!

Its not my fault of course! I didn’t ask for the world to be full of germs!

Perhaps ACTEW could give an exemption to OCD sufferers?


Or you could just buy a damn filter, Luca. It’s cheap, you don’t have to plug it in, and it filters out any bugs that might be left in the water.

Of course, it’s totally unneccesary, and it’s very existence is predicated on people like you who are terrified of “nasty germs”. The same people who slather every surface with antibacterial washes/disinfectants/bleaches, terrified for their kids wellbeing, and end up with wheezy asthmatics who get sick at the mention of a cold.

I think they are already looking at recycled water for Goulburn.

‘Cause they’ve got nearly no water left?

Instead of piping our water to Goulburn, why can’t they build a water recycling plant there?

Ok Mr_Shab scientific-type-person, why can’t every home have one of those water dispensers that apparently produce water by sucking it out of the air?

I realise the thing would need to use electricity but isn’t this a boutique option for… for those of us of a sensitive disposition?

As I’ve said before Miz – the dam is already full of nasties. Adding highly processed sewage water is not going to increase coliforms or dissolved nutrients a jot.

Treating the sewage is yer first failsafe. Having an positive outflow control is your second (i.e – if the treatment process isn’t “on” the water can’t exit the system). Chlorinating the water is your third, UV treating it is your fourth and regular testing is your fifth.

A lotta stuff has to go wrong before anything unpleasant can get into the system.

The John Snow thing happened in the 1850’s, when medical consensus was that miasma caused Cholera. I’d say we’re a little better set up public health-wise than 150 years ago.

London water does taste horrible – but I’d put that down to the dissolved mineral content, rather than anything else. At least it doesn’t make people sick anymore.

You’re putting your squeamishness ahead of a public good.

Assuming that the water at the end of the river eventually flows into the sea (barely the case with the murray darling but lets assume either we can get more rain or price the cotton farmers out of the market)

If you assume that then a new damn creates more fresh water in the whole system (yes it needs to be well sited to stop evaporation taking more than it creates).

Whereas recycling is pulling water out of the river that was already heading downstream.

The minor percentages of the ACT’s use compared to the system as a whole probably render that part of the debate moot.

A dam does have the benefit of storing the water uphill (no reliance on pumps) so being less prone to breakdown.

It has the drawback of flooding a valley.

The people downstream have been drinking our recycled water for a long time. Quit being so precious.

Incidentally I don’t see what the difference in terms of stealing water from those downstream is between a new dam or recycling – either way we’re taking out water that would have otherwise kept going down the hill.

And London water is ‘orrible.

Sorry to point out the obvious, but the current government is probably the best in years at being able to manage systemic dozens of redundant safety system failures.

I have every confidence that they will be able to manage to stuff this up.

And what does the city of London drink now Miz?

Recycled water!

It’s relatively easy to engineer multiple redundant safety systems into place, so that not one stuffup, but dozens would have to be made by different people for your doomsday scenario to occur.

The real concern is cost, this plan requires pumping water up hill which is not optimal.

We must have a referendum.

Thumper hit the nail on the head, above – recycled water MUST be processed before it’s drinkable, and I can easily imagine a stuff up (either human or technological). At least at the mo, intervention at the ACTEW end before it’s sent through the pipes is pretty minor, and is unlikely to kill people if there is a stuff up.

Now, Google up some history about John Snow and the London cholera epidemic. It was sewage getting into a well that caused a great cluster of deaths.

If we do get recycled water foisted upon us, and there IS a glitch, what then? It jeopardises our health. Frankly I don’t trust either a water corporation (whose raison d’etre is profit, accountable only to its shareholders) or the resultant recycled product, which can’t be totally cleaned of micronutrients.

Besides, I’d rather (potentially) drink my own wee than have to drink the upstream populations wee – which is what we are doing now anyway.

I dont know why everyone is thinking that (under recycled sewerage regime) they will turn on their taps and get a thick septic sludge violently chugging out.

I would say that – due to the source of the water – that in fact it would be as clean – if not cleaner than current water.

So much wild life dies in water catchment areas and its putrescent meat juices and bodily fluids are sure to end up in our dams – hell a helicopter crashed in our dam and standope went for a swim in his reg grundies in it.

You would be stupid or extremeli naieve to think that our drinking water is piped fresh from the source – its thoroughly treated.

Go to somewhere like Mumbai and you will see how well we have it.

I would drink recycled sewerage anytime befoe puckering my lips to an Indian faucet.

Luca – you are a arsehat. Climb into your hermetically sealed bubble and never do anything ever again if you’re afraid of the scary germs.

Give up drinking water entirely if you’re concerned about the “ick factor”. There are nastier things than you mentioned floating around in our water supply. Once again – why the hell do you think it gets treated?

While you’re at it – give up veggies (eek! They use manure on the fields) red meat (haemolytic E.coli!) chicken (Salmonella!) biscuits (Bacillus spores!) fast food (Do you think they always wash their hands) bread (Mycotoxins!) milk (Staphylococcus aureus!) tinned food (Clostridium!). Hell – give up everything but hard candy (but only cause I can’t think of anything that will grow on it).

We live in a world infested with a whole multi-coloured galaxy of bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoans, parasites and other lovelies. 99.99(etc)% of them are not pathogenic – you’d never know they were there, if not for our intrepid microbiologists. Of the pathogenic ones, 99.99(etc)% are more than adequately dealt with by your exquisitely effective immune system. Once again – you’d never know they were there.

The ones that do make you sick – well, gastro is unpleasant, but rarely lethal in western countries. You can almost entirely mitigate all food and water safety risks by treating and correctly handling them.

Now – repeat after me…my drinking water is treated. It’s not going to hurt me. I will not be drinking anything even remotely brown and smelly/seminal/menses-related.

The reason that poo was dangerous after the tsunami was because it destroyed all of the existing potable water infrastructure. People had to drink untreated water. Cholera is endemic in Indonesian groundwater (FYI – it ain’t in Australia).

FYI – aborted foetuses are classified as biohazardous waste and are incinerated.

Does anyone on RA from the People’s Republic of O’Connor recall a woman named ‘Spring’ who sold large bottles of ‘Spring water’ locally sourced, about 10 years ago?

Luca, Sod F all of our water usage is actually consumed by people with a hundred times more being used in washing, sewerage, air con and gardening.

If you have a problem with recycled water then do as many Americans and Europeans do and have a water cooler at home with large bottled water.

And as someone else said, there is no such thing as new water with the precipitation cycle.

Luca, OMG I so want that foot-operated stuff – and they should include wheelie bins too.
People fail to realise that sanitation is one of the most lifesaving innovations in human history. If we do get recycled water, I will get a rainwater tank . . . somehow.

Being human, Mr_Shab, logic doesn’t enter into it!

It’s the aesthetics of the situation man!

Have you never taken the time to consider what goes into t-t-t-t-t-t-toilets!

It ain’t pretty and it ain’t just P & P (or W & P for females)!

Apart from rubbish bins in hospital operating rooms, the most vile and unimaginable things known to man end up in toilets!

We’ll now be drinking tampon soup, for christ’s sake!

And that’s just for starters! How about aborted fetus with lashings of fresh semen as a main course?

And to add insult to injury it won’t be our vile mess we’ll be drinking! It will be someone else’s!

I’ll be sitting there in some café in Civic sipping coffee and trying to look elegant and Jon Stanhope will stick his silly head in the window and with a huge smirk say:”drink my p…, sucker!”.

I mean, how galling, how absolutely galling!

Did you know, Mr_Shab, that in catastrophes such as the recent tsunami, the major health risk is not caused by rotting bodies but … poo!

Poo is terrible stuff and should be kept as far away from our mouths as possible!

So I want to end this post by encouraging all the citizens of the ACT to pay particular attention to washing their hands after going to the loo and I also want to severely criticise the ACT Chapter of Australian Architects for not designing foot-operated doors, taps, soap-dispensers for public toilets!

I feel sick!

Seepi – Why do you seem to go into seizure whenever someone suggests a move from the status quo?

How many schools would you like to shut to pay for the duplicated infrastructure?

i don’t really want to drink recycled water.

Can’t we use recycled water for ovals, industry and building sites, and leave more standard water for households?

So where is it all going?

Someone else is using most of your average allocation.

My parents are above average. They live in a small townhouse development, and have to pay a share of watering a huge lawn in the common area.

Last year (Oct – Dec 2006)

Ignore the months in brackets. I was originally plugging in last quarters figures, before I decided the yearly was more appropriate.

every man, woman, child, baby and infirmed accounts for over 600 litres of water usage each every day.

Last year (Oct – Dec 2006) my wife and I used 184 kilolitres, which is well below the average of 428 kilolitres for two people.

I wouldn’t say we were miserly, we just accepted that having a huge expanse of lawn was unsustainable.

When we stopped watering the lawn consumption halved — from 66 per quarter to 34. And we weren’t watering it much anyway.

Recycled water is not going to hurt you. The levels of residual hormones from your pee is not going to make you grow breasts or render you sterile (the pesticides/herbicides/fungicides on your veggies will do that much more effectively). You’re not all going to get cholera/dysentery/Giardia/Cryptosporidiosis.

Anyway – our water supply is already filled with a whole multi-coloured galaxy of unpleasantness (as a friend likes to say – “I’m not drinking that. Fish f*ck in it”). Do you think the whole water supply is hermetically sealed from the source of the river to your tap? Why the hell do you think we chlorinate it?

Drink the damn recycled water. It’s a much better option that ludicrous white elephants like desalination.

I am a little concerned on water quality. I come from Brackistan south of the border. They used to tell us the cows at the Werribee poo farm were good eating until they found they were full off DDT and Dioxins. The sewerage farm at Dandenong South is still a no go zone due to contamination and it stopped operating 20 years ago. I still prefer tank water but then I am probably putting myself at risk from bird flue from bird sh*t.

I don’t want to grow breasts, damnit!

SBS had recycled water on their 930 news – an expert from Israel, where they use recycled water on their gardens etc, says there are health problems DRINKING the recycled water. He advises against it as micronutrients like estrogen and pharmaceuticals (that people have in their pee) can’t be removed and are a health risk.
I for one can see a big diff between a natural filtering of treated water via eg a river, and an artificial one managed by an organisation (who may in fact stuff up occasionally).
And I reckon Howard’s got his eyes on privatising the whole country’s water, once it’s in his grubby Heep-like brass bands. (and it is Ironic that a millionaire – Turnbull – is in charge of a basic human essential like water). It’s all about money, folks.

Howard blamed the ACT for not sending enough water downstream.

If we build a new dam and it fills, even with enviromental flows down the river, then that means we will have a lot of water left in storage. It will mean we will not have to go to stooopid water restriction stages.

Don’t sweat it with the recycled water folks, stop calling it recycled and start calling it filtered and you’ll feel better about drinking it. And they’re going to feed it into the dams before you get it to ensure it picks up a couple of impurities, so it won’t be too healthy for you.

And let’s get fair dinkum, we get plenty of rain, we just let it flush through the inadequate storm water systems and out to sea.

VY has it in one, a bit of both will work just fine.

When nations undergo severe internal stress they look about for someone to blame (other than themselves).

Isn’t there some ethnic group we could hold responsible for the water crisis?

I once saw a person from NZ or surrounding islands drinking at a public faucet and he seemed to take an awfully long time!

New Zealanders can be quite big people so perhaps its them who are sucking up all our water?

I was looking at the ACT’s water usage stats today and was flabbergasted that every man, woman, child, baby and infirmed accounts for over 600 litres of water usage each every day.

I know my usage as it’s on the bill from ACTEW each few months and even though each day I like a good shower, run the evaporative cooler, hit the full flush on the toilet, water the trees in my front yard and run the dishwasher three quarters of the water that I account for is outside my home.

So where is it all going? Is it in the air conditioning at my workplace and the local mall, did the lettuce in my fridge take 100 litres to produce, or is it all wasted on vineyards, olive groves and public and diplomatic gardens?

Commercials telling us to turn the tap off when brushing our teeth is not going to solve this

We need to wake up to ourselves – people in Europe drink continuous recycled water as the rivers flow from the mountains to the coasts – they seem to be fairly healthy as do the Americans who also drink recycled water. When I was in the USA I drank water out of the tap and I’m living proof that recycled water is harmless!!!

But isn’t all water recycled? The only difference being they wish to use a man-made process instead of the natural rain filtering method? Dr Karl says that you’re already drinking dinosaur pee.

You watch. Trendy cafes will haul in the genuine article from somewhere and advertise “no recycled water used on these premises” and charge extra.

Nothing personal but I don’t want to drink your bodily waste, steamed or not, so I guess I’ll be paying extra for my coffee.

How did things get this bad?

What ‘water situation’ ?

What ‘drought’ ?

There is none of either in Australia at the moment.

And I can back that up. Lets stop covering erroneous policy making decisions with smoke and mirrors and look at the true problems.

The fact is that no amount of reduction of town water supply will make any real difference other than in the supercentres, and the likelihood of any water saving measures there will only ever be superficial in comparison to the real problem.

They gotta pay the reaper man for the seed they sew…

You would think we could use recycled water in our toilets, showers and gardens before we have to drink it. We use perfectly good drinking water to flush our crap away – go figure,
Before anyone starts – I know that that would means millions of dollars on pipes being changed etc, but it sounds better to me anyway

I have no issues with recycled water… good idea to me especially if it puts less stress on our current water situation.

Recycling water reuses water that would otherwise flow downstream to towns such as Gundagai. By building a new big dam, we stop a dam full of water from flowing downstream to towns such as Gundagai. At what point are we comfortable with this? Only in coastal areas, where the water otherwise runs into the sea, are these options fair to other communities. The only way to increase our water supply without ripping off others is to actually increase water input into the area (eg more rain, pipe water in from areas with plety of it). I’m not sure there is an economically viable way of doing this.

Recycled water is fine. Once you get over the thought of where it comes from, the product itself is clean, and in no way harmful. Would you drink recycled blood? no. Would you drink milk? Yes. doesn’t make sense.

Woody Mann-Caruso12:19 pm 01 Feb 07

Projected cost of building new dam: $160,000,000

After which you have a big, empty or slowly emptying hole in the ground, just like our current dams – in other words, a $160m band-aid. Cheapest =! best if we’re talking about long-term value for money and sustainability. Bring on the recycled stuff!

My understanding is the Naas Valley is a big comparatively shallow valley and not very good for a damn. You’re destroying a lot of land for not much water and a lot of evaporation.

When do we start drinking Lakes Burley Griffin, Ginninderrah and Tuggeranong? The water in them ultimately ends up in the Murrumbidgee and then the Murray River. If people downstream of us are drinking that water, why don’t we?

I believe we can top off Burley Griffin with the water in Googong.

Did Richard Mulcahy not read the article? The $350 million is for raising the Cotter Dam and building the recycling plant.

I like the idea of water recycling. Besides everything else, I think it sends a message to the populus that we need to think about reducing our demand for fresh potable water.

If the ACT’s demand for fresh water continues to grow and rainfall remains at all time lows, building a new dam will only ever be a band-aid solution. One which, as johnboy points out, will have devastating environmental consequences. In 10 or 20 years time when we have also exhausted that supply, will we decide to build yet another dam? Or perhaps some kind of desalinisation plant to bring water from the coast to the Territory? We could power it with a nice big fat coal power station! Building another dam is fundamentally flawed.

And I really don’t know what the big deal is about drinking recycled water. We already drink water recycled by nature anyway. Do people think the stuff just materialises out of thin air like magic? Honestly just grow up and get over it. Good on Peter Beattie for a very rare display of true political leadership, which we don’t have the pleasure of witnessing very often in Australia.

VYBerlinaV8_now with_added_grunt10:40 am 01 Feb 07

There are predictions that the current drought cycle will be over by March/April, so maybe we should wait abit and see. If the drought doesn’t break by then we could reasonably assume it will be at least another year and different measures are needed.

I think a two pronged attack ould be best: recycle storm/sewage water, AND build a new dam.

The only water I drink is bottled mineral water (store brand) from Woolies or Coles. The cost is around 66 cents per litre, which is a cost i’m happy to pay per day for nice tasting fizzy drinking water.

That 66 cents would buy me exactly one kilolitre of water through the tap. Interesting symmetry.

I’d therefore be fine with recycled water coming out of my tap, for showering and watering the garden.

My understanding is that if the ACT cuts off its environmental flows, it has to compensate water users downstream.

I smell a rat. The bit M.Turnbull mentioned about draconian water restrictions may be the hint. Maybe our water marketing people are getting nervous that there growth may be limited by long term restrictions and the way to avoid this is to mix the water to make it go further. Inevitably this will need to the public installing and using rain water tanks where possible to provide quality potable water and may defeat this plan.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.