Toowoomba rejects recycled water

Unfortunately it seems that the scare campaign has won and the residents of Toowoomba have rejected the proposed recycling of sewage into their drinking supply with 61.6% voting no in yesterday’s referendum.

If this was just the residents of Toowoomba rejecting the most sensible option for dealing with their own problems then I would be inclined to say so what. However given the nature of politics and politicians this will be viewed as a test case for how other communities will react to such a plan and no doubt there will be others silently backing away from recycling proposals. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Sydney could quite cheaply use recycled water for about about 9% of its water usage, but even this modest amount was rejected in favour of the single big ticket solution of desalination.

Of course for non-coastal areas desalination is not even an option so somewhere along the line people are going to have to realise that in the driest continent on earth we are going to have to be a little more sensible about how we reuse our water. The only other option long term is to go for the sort of population cap that some Green groups would propose. Rejecting this is merely the residents sticking their heads in the sand and hoping their problems go away or someone else solves it for them.


21 Responses to Toowoomba rejects recycled water

  1. Sacha says:

    I wonder how much of the no vote was something like
    (1) oooo, I don’t want to drink water from poo!, or
    (2) what if the recycling systems break down?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the no vote was just based on the oo yuk factor, which is of course a good way to go about working out how to deal with the water problem, isn’t it?

  2. Sacha says:

    Of course, a lot of the water (if not all of it) that people have drunk has passed through many living creatures over the couple of billion years that life has been on Earth… maybe that could be part of the advertising?

  3. Sacha says:

    Here’s an idea – a cap and trade system for water for each person. Each person is allocated X litres of water per 3 months, say, and if they use less than that, they can sell their unused allocation to others. If they use more, they have to pay a substantial amount. Havn’t thought more about it!

  4. Steve says:


    As for your point 2, I would imagine that you can have multiple independent measuring locations down stream, to check water quality, before it gets blended together, and if there is a problem the inflow is cut.

    As for the cap and trade idea, as has been mention before with regard carbon credits, it should acheive the same as just a straight price increase, but has the benefit of actually limiting the volume, and a strict volume limit may be even more important with water than CO2.

    My only concern is that at times the marginal cost of water may really spike say during a drought in summer. Yes that is when you want to conserve water, but its also when its value is the greatest, perhaps better to have a flat marginal cost which makes people conserve when its raining, and allow them to use that when it dry. Of course they could just conserve water credits to do this, but it might take a while for people to get the hang of the whole thing and how much the need to conserve across seasons, rainy periods etc.

  5. Sacha says:

    According to,20867,19965077-30417,00.html, “NSW Premier Morris Iemma said Sydneysiders were “not ready” for recycled waste water”. Well I’m ready. How ready do people need to be?

    Big question – where’s the water that we’ll need to use coming from?

  6. yobbo says:

    “The only other option long term is to go for the sort of population cap that some Green groups would propose.”

    This is simply not true at all. Australia is a huge country and the majority of our high rainfall areas are simply uninhabited.

    Getting rid of subsidised provision of water completely would mean than high-water usage industries would be forced to relocate to areas where they could provide their own water. And when they relocate, their workers would follow, meaning that new towns would spring up.

    Examples of such areas include: The entire Great Australian Bight, North-west WA, Most of the Northern Territory, large areas of north Queensland and a fair chunk of Tasmania.

    A population cap is only necessary in places like Sydney and Perth where population is already maxing out available water resources. Australia could easily support another 100 million more inhabitants, they just wouldn’t all be able to live in Sydney.

    It is only the fact that Australia has had subsidised water provision for most of its history that we are in the unique position of only having 5 major cities in the whole country.

    There really is no good reason at all why WA’s biggest city is located in the driest part of the state, whereas the high rainfall south (Albany and all the way east to Esperance) is almost uninhabited, and the tropical North likewise.

    The only thing sustaining this situation is socialised water provision (and especially high subsidies given to water-intensive industries).

  7. Steve says:

    Hmm, I would think the cost of moving the population and industries of perth to NW WA would exceed even the cost of the plan to pipe water back from there. Not to mention that the first firm to do so would suffer massive infrustructure costs to set up. So unless you want to do a planned socialist thing in the style of the Chinese I don’t think this is likely.

    I agree with you though about industries buying water at a real price. Sydney could most likely buy the Snowy mountains water and pipe it to sydney for a much higher price than the irrigators. It would also allow people to more clearly asses whether the price of recycled water was worth it.

  8. yobbo says:

    Steve: I’m not suggesting a massive government program to move everyone at once, simply removing the perverse incentives (subsidised water provision) and letting things take care of themselves.

    If certain industries (like mining) all of a sudden had to pay the full cost of their water usage, you would find that moving operations north would not be such a difficult decision.

    To quote Rachael Hunter – Relocation wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would happen.

    And yes, removing the subsidisation would also make other options like recycling more likely to succeed, as well as severely reducing the amount of water used in the first place. (People aren’t going to spend $10,000+ a year maintaining their lawns, for example, so you would see less lawns and more rock gardens in the city – which is what should happen in the drier parts of Australia anyway.)

  9. Paula says:

    Many people voted No, not because of any scare tactics, but because they had read the Council’s NWC funding application that Mayor Thorley tried to keep secret. This document showed the project as being fundamentally flawed.

    The Water Futures project was never a solution – where was the RO waste stream going to go. Where was Thorley going to hide it? Acland Coal didn’t want it. Without their involvement, the project’s cost doubled. How high would rates be then?

    You will be surprised at how quickly other water source options are now adopted for Toowoomba.

  10. Steve says:

    Maybe I will. As I said before I have no real issue with how Tomoowba does its thing. I am more worried about how the decision is read in other areas around the country as a rejection of the idea. If the proposal is as you have said, badly flawed, then the ‘YES’ campaign was also doing recycled water a diservice.

    Its always difficult to judge these things from afar, but certainly the objections that were getting airing nationally were not about technical flaws in the project, but based on hysterical “poowoomba” slogans.

  11. melissa says:

    you need to respect peoples vote.

  12. Steve says:

    Me in particular?

  13. Kevin says:

    The Yes campaign did a huge disservice to the recycled water industry. Thorley has put back the industry in Australia by 10 years. Thanks a lot.

  14. Pat rack says:

    The towomba people can stare in the face of advericity and laugh because all there doing is flushing themselves down the towlet. I am extreemly disapointed with toombians they could have been drinking the edge of science and they said no 😦

  15. micheal says:

    It would be an excellent idea because they say that recycled water is MUCH cleaner than the water you drink now.

  16. […] This scheme sounds better than the present one, and may well lead to water being used more efficiently than at present, but at a guess I don’t know if it’s sufficient. Perhaps a cap and trade scheme would be better? […]

  17. Melissa says:

    In my opinion something like recycled effluent should have at least 4-5 years testing. Di thorley and Peter Beattie should have done something about our water crisis a long time ago instead of looking for the quickest fix. I do not trust drinking recycled water and the fact that i don’t even have a choice really disgusts me we are individuals we should have a choice. you can’t say to me that for the average person bottled water is a choice bcause as soon as recycled water is introduced the price of bottled water will sky rocket. Also Now scientists are saying tank water is bad for us where is our choice??????

  18. Mark Hill says:

    All water is recycled water, modern filtration and processing can give you water more pure than a mountain stream.

    What is the damned problem?

  19. Sacha says:

    Ooooo – it’s poo water!

  20. meghan evans says:

    it is terrible that poo and wee from sewers and surige is soon to be coming out of our taps

  21. Freya says:

    Hello Do you know if dogs (very small and well behaved yorkie) can go on the land train?
    Thank you!

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