As drought-hit towns across New South Wales and Queensland edge closer to completely running out of water, federal and state governments in Australia are trying to come up with ways to guarantee supplies into the future. But on the other side of the continent, the city of Perth is leagues ahead in its water efficiency following a long-term decline in rainfall. Part of its survival plan relies on recycled water from toilets, a move that many consumers elsewhere still consider to be unpalatable.

Since 2017, residents in the Western Australian city of Perth have been drinking water recycled from sewage. It is filtered using a process called reverse osmosis, which is similar to forcing water through a giant sponge. It is then disinfected with ultra-violet light at a treatment plant, pumped into natural aquifers, and extracted.

Perth is a city of two million people, and Clare Lugar from Western Australia’s Water Corporation said it has had to get used to climatic changes.

“We know from the mid-70s onwards Perth’s rainfall has been declining by about 20 percent, and that has had a huge impact on our water sources that are dependent on the climate.”

Lugar said convincing residents of the benefits of drinking recycled sewage did take time.

“So, it is only a small percentage of the water that comes into the plant is actually from our toilets. But getting over that perception, that kind of image you might be drinking the water that you flushing down the toilet – that was probably one of our big challenges initially,” said Lugar.

Two desalination plants supply about half of Perth’s water. Aquifers are also crucial, but recycling produces only two percent of the total. But that figure is soon expected to rise.

Ian Wright, an expert in environmental science at Western Sydney University, believes other parts of Australia should embrace recycling.

“In Sydney that is probably 150 liters per day per person of waste water that is completely wasted, and, yes, we have the availability of desalination on the coast, but Canberra does not have desalination and then the poor drought-stricken towns like Tamworth and Dubbo, and Broken Hill, they could really, really use that now,” he said.

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent. Water is precious, and, in many places, scarce. More than 95 percent of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, is officially in drought, and the next three months are forecast to be drier than average.

 

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