Peter Beattie, the premier of Queensland, announced on Sunday that his, the second largest state in Australia, would become the first to use recycled water for drinking. He added that if the ongoing 100-day drought continues, all other Australian states will be forced to follow suit.
‘I think, in the end, because of the drought, all of Australia is going to end up drinking recycled purified water,’ said Beattie. ‘These are ugly decisions, but you either drink water or you die. There’s no choice. It’s liquid gold, it’s a matter of life and death,’ he told a local radio station.
With inflows into Queensland dams in December 80% lower than those in December 2004, the previously lowest levels, the Queensland Water Commission predicts that the state could be dry by 2009.
The practice of drinking recycled, which is adopted in Israel, Singapore, the United States and parts of Europe, including the cities of Washington DC and London, is unpopular in Australia. To try to influence popular opinion, Prime Minister John Howard and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull have supported Queensland’s decision.
‘I am very strongly in favor of recycling and Mr Beattie is right and I agree with him completely,’ said Howard, while Turnbull told the press that Australian cities, all now facing declining dam levels because of the worst drought on record, must incorporate recycled water into their water plans.
‘Recycling is a real option for our cities,’ he added. ‘All of our big cities have to expand the range of water sources they have and include sources which are not dependent on rainfall.’
Wastewater has been recycled and used for watering parks and golf courses for decades. Using it to supplement supplies of drinking water would appear inevitable in the future. Informal surveys show that most people fail to tell the difference between tap, recycled and bottled water. According to a 2001 University of Southern Florida study, finally, the microbiological quality of water from a wastewater treatment plant was superior to that from the local reservoir.
The Courier Mail (Queensland)
Australian Academy of Science
Public Utility Board, Singapore