Ahhhh that classic phrase that strikes fear and dread into most adults. Well I'm only going there loosely - it's not so much affairs of the heart or home but affairs of water security for our growing cities and urban centres.
For those of you who watched the recent and very good 4 Corners piece on Australia's burgeoning population growth, you may also know the ABC has been following up with a range of stories on the issues that didn't make the cut for the TV program. Surprisingly for some, not surprisingly for many, because of urban water’s classic A to Z ranking on issues of the day, we’re currently sitting at about an X (no harm done there, if there are no crises to be fixed). However we have been contacted by the ABC for a follow up to the growth issue around urban water security. I’ll give you the link later after I give you some context.
Speaking to many of the converted at the AWA NSW Heads of Water forum a couple of weeks ago on the topic of servicing new growth in the greenfield areas of Sydney it was apparent that potable reuse has to be one of the potential solutions? This is no less an issue for Melbourne, South East Queensland, in fact all major urban centres. I say ‘one the potential solutions’ quite deliberately. First off wherever and whenever we can use the cheapest form of water – usually surface supplies from dams, we should be. Gravity is our best friend together with the luxury of protected catchments. Seawater desalination is now a real supply in our capital cities, with the two in Perth going full belt as we speak. Decentralised systems will offer more resiliency. Stormwater harvesting can help provide the greenspace to assist in physical and mental health, and importantly, new options for sharing the nutrient burden in receiving waters. All of these options of course underscored by world class water efficiency efforts.
But drinking purified recycled water? This is the conversation we have to have. But not amongst ourselves. We need to talk to our communities, we need to engage them with the technology, with the product, with the safety and the results. There’s not much pioneering to be done here, Namibia was first and many have followed. Singapore, South Africa, Texas, Arizona and California. But right here in Australia, Water Corporation took the bold step more than a few years ago of starting the conversation with the community. Many years, visitors centres, transparency in water quality testing, many non-believers in, many more believers out. Potable reuse is happening in Australia right here and now – with the support of both sides of politics.
The No. 1 issue is here water utilities having that direct conversation with their customers, the people who foot the bills for the options chosen. Empowering our customers (and the broader community) to make those choices without panicked political biases is the right direction, the only direction.
So here is the link to the ABC story from yesterday. I think Sue Murphy summed it up well in her comments: ‘I think the community are much smarter than what sometimes governments give them credit for’.