Australian Research Fellow and University of Melbourne professor of Urban Ecohydrology Tim Fletcher released a paper this week suggesting that Australians should embrace drinking recycled water.
Fletcher’s paper aims to transform policies and attitudes towards water use as the nation braces itself for climate change in the future.
He says that up to 20 per cent of all drinking water in state capitals may already be treated water that has been recaptured by the cities’ reservoirs. If Australians can get over the ‘yuck’ factor, he says, they could and should be doing more to embrace technology to recycle water.
Singapore and California already supply much of their drinking water from treated effluent, while India will soon be doing the same for millions of its inhabitants.
He said increased harvesting of storm water and using lower quality water on our gardens would at least be a step in the right direction until Australia accepts recycled effluent water as drinkable.
Any city surrounded by hills with residential development – including Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane to varying degrees – will inevitably capture the released waste water in its drinking reservoirs.
“I would be amazed if Sydney and Melbourne did not have some of the (treated) water being put back into the system unintentionally,” Fletcher said. “But every drop that is flushed down the nation’s toilets is reusable when treated correctly by removing any foreign bodies. There is not a single new droplet of water on the surface of the earth. Every bit of water has been around many, many times before you drink it. It has just been treated naturally by evaporation.”
Fletcher’s paper looks at holistic opportunities for improved water usage and recommends the federal government looks to other countries and regions for ideas that make for more efficient water use. Those ideas include:
SUBSTITUTION – 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s seven million residents are provided with seawater for toilet flushing;
REGENERATION - Orange County, California adds highly treated waste water back to local groundwater, providing about 20 per cent of what is needed to maintain the aquifer for two million residents;
REDUCTION – Widespread pipeline leaks and poor accounting mean that more than half of all drinking water is lost in the developing world;
CAPTURE - Work can be done to engineer wetlands and other biofilters to capture storm water runoff.