Experts say Australia needs to consider drinking recycled water.

16 October 2013 — Australians need to start drinking recycled water, a report released today [16 October 2013] by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering states.

The report, Drinking water through recycling, states that direct potable reuse – recycling directly to the drinking water distribution system – should be considered as a water management strategy alongside other options.

There were considerable environmental, economic, and community benefits of supplying purified recycled water direct to drinking water distribution systems in many circumstances, the report found, including reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, lower capital and operational costs and a more robust, climate-independent water supply.

Modelling performed by GHD found that DPR had significantly lower energy requirements, cost and greenhouse gas emissions than seawater desalination.

Dr Mark O’Donohue, chief executive of the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, which funded the report, said drying climates were a key driver for why the centre was looking at alternative methods for potable water.

Another report this week stated that climate change would intensify the El Niño Southern Oscillation Index, causing more intense droughts throughout Australia.

See our article Climate change intensified El Niño to cause more drought, flood

DPR differs from the most commonly used approach to water recycling – indirect potable reuse – through the absence of an environmental buffer. Indirect treatment involves storage of treated reclaimed water in a river, lake reservoir or aquifer, before being sent to a drinking water treatment plant and sent to consumers.

With DPR, treated wastewater is recycled directly into the potable water supply distribution system.

The report stated that DPR could safely supply drinking water directly into the water distribution system, but needed to be designed correctly and operated effectively with appropriate oversight.

The report noted one of the main challenges was overcoming community opposition to the use of DPR, stating there was a goal of making reclaimed water an acceptable “alternative water” for augmenting drinking water supplies.

“[The report’s] intent is to ensure that water recycling is one of the options considered,” said ATSE’s Peter Laver.

Drinking recycled water has previously been a contentious issue in Australia. In Toowoomba, residents voted against the use of recycled water for potable use in a referendum in 2006.

Lead author Dr Stuart Khan said DPR was already practiced internationally in a number of cases, including in New Mexico and Texas in the US, and in South Africa, and needed to be on the table in Australia.

“How we supply water should be based on quantifiable or evidence-based factors,” Dr Khan said.

He said Australia needed to overcome the “yuck factor” to make it work.

“Social acceptance is where the challenge lies.”