Ready or not, recycled sewage

johnboy 2 February 2007 58

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.

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58 Responses to Ready or not, recycled sewage
luca luca 7:48 pm 08 Feb 07

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?


Mr_Shab Mr_Shab 9:09 am 08 Feb 07

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.

Thumper Thumper 8:11 am 08 Feb 07

I believe ralph is correct. Goulburn have been thinking about recycling their water for a while now.

it makes a hell of a lot of sense.

(Does anyone have strange memories of the movie ‘Dune’?)

Ralph Ralph 8:09 am 08 Feb 07

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

el el 11:09 pm 07 Feb 07

‘Cause they’ve got nearly no water left?

seepi seepi 10:20 pm 07 Feb 07

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

luca luca 8:56 pm 07 Feb 07

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?

Mr_Shab Mr_Shab 4:41 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

johnboy johnboy 4:28 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

caf caf 4:21 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

miz miz 4:09 pm 05 Feb 07

And London water is ‘orrible.

Maelinar Maelinar 4:05 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

johnboy johnboy 3:51 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

miz miz 3:45 pm 05 Feb 07

We must have a referendum.

miz miz 3:44 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

Maelinar Maelinar 12:38 pm 05 Feb 07

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.

Danman Danman 10:37 am 05 Feb 07

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.

Mr_Shab Mr_Shab 9:45 am 05 Feb 07

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.

I-filed I-filed 5:55 pm 04 Feb 07

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?

TAD TAD 7:36 am 03 Feb 07

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.

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