Australians waste billions of liters of water that can be recycled and can alleviate the worst drought that has ever occurred.
Despite living on the driest continent on earth, we discharge enough sewage into the sea to fill Sydney Harbor two and a half times a year.
Almost anything could be treated and reused to flush toilets, water gardens and even drinks – but most of our big cities recycle less than 10 percent of the wastewater.
While the crippling drought is destroying farms and leaving some regional cities just a few weeks after running dry, experts are crying out for change in our wasteful ways.
Despite life on the driest continent on earth, we discharge enough sewage into the sea to fill Sydney Harbor (photo) two and a half times each year
Australia wastes billions of liters of water that can be recycled amid the worst drought ever. Pictured: sewer pipes that pollute the sea
& # 39; With much less frequent rainfall, we should make maximum use of all the water we already have & # 39 ;, Professor Greg Leslie, director of the UNSW Global Water Institute, told Daily Mail Australia.
& # 39; Our philosophy should be to fully use each drop and that means much better recycling. & # 39;
In most states, the little water that is recycled is used for non-drinkable purposes such as watering parks and crops, using it in factories, and extinguishing fires.
The area around Sydney has 14 treatment plants that make water reusable.
For example, the Wollongong plant recycles water for industrial use by Blue Scope Steel, the Rouse Hill plant supplies non-drinking water to new homes and the St Mary & # 39; s plant returns treated water to the Clarence River system.
Melbourne has two recycling plants, while Adelaide directs wastewater from its largest treatment plant north of the city to irrigate gardens and vineyards.
These schedules are commendable – but because our dams are drying up and the earth is tearing under the feet of our farmers, they are simply not enough.
The Wollongong water treatment plant (photo) recycles water for industrial use by Blue Scope Steel
Farmers are paralyzed because they are forced to drive into water to keep their cattle and crops alive. Pictured: Warilalda farmer Elizabeth Hollow (left) receives a hug from her twin sister Catherine on her drought-stricken land
& # 39; The amount we recycle compared to what we use is very small & # 39 ;, said UNSW Professor Stuart Khan to Daily Mail Australia.
The best way to meaningfully change this is to purify wastewater to a standard that makes it drinkable again, he said.
& # 39; If we want to make a difference, we must have all the options on the table. We must try to produce high-quality drinking water.
& # 39; It is technically feasible, we just need to find a way to get politicians to take action. & # 39;
Professor Leslie agreed that recycling water for drinking is the most sensible way.
& # 39; The economy prefers to put recycled water back into the total water supply because we already have the sanitation and sewer infrastructure & # 39 ;, he said.
Water recycling is already done in Namibia, South Africa and the US, but the only Australian city that is currently following is Perth.
The city's groundwater renewal scheme treats waste water in an advanced recycling plant and returns it to underground boreholes from which water is extracted.
It is simply unacceptable that most people flush drinking water down the toilet
Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore
The scale is currently small, but the project aims to recycle 45 percent of Perth's wastewater by 2030.
& # 39; This scheme is hugely important as it shows Australia the way & # 39 ;, said Professor Khan.
Brisbane is also evolving towards recycling water for drinking.
During the millennium drought in the mid-2000s, the city built the $ 2.7 billion Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme.
The plan includes the removal of waste water from six plants, the further treatment and pumping back to the largest surface water reservoir in the region, Lake Wivenhoe.
Officials decided, however, that the scheme would not be used unless the dam levels fell below 40 percent, which means that it would go has never been tested.
Meanwhile, Sydney and Melbourne have no plans to recycle water for drinking.
According to the experts, two major obstacles stand in the way. One of them is the time and money needed to update our recycling facilities to make such water drinkable.
Perth & # 39; s Groundwater Refill Chart (photo) treats wastewater in an advanced recycling plant and returns it to underground drilling from which water is extracted
Frost covers the empty lagoon of Little Llangothlin near the NSW city of Guyra. The lagoon is part of a series of protected wetlands, internationally recognized for their rarity and importance as a refuge for migratory birds. The region has gone through a period of intense drought, with the lagoons now empty
& # 39; None of our current factories in Sydney has the ability to make water thresholds back to standard, so we have a fair way to build the infrastructure, & # 39; said Professor Khan.
But in the long term, recycling water works cheaper than other measures in times of drought.
& # 39; Recycling is twice as cheap as pumping water from the Shoalhaven River and desalination, both of which are energy intensive and bad for the environment, & # 39; said Professor Leslie.
This can mean that the water bill of people goes down.
The second problem is social acceptance. Water that is recycled for drinking must be treated strictly to reach a level set by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, which means that it is completely safe to drink.
Yet the so-called & # 39; yaw factor & # 39; exist: people do not like the idea of drinking water that had once been in a toilet and was flowing through the sewers.
When the dam reached eight percent in 2006, officials in Toowoomba, Queensland, wanted to build a water recycling plan.
But there was a referendum on the issue and the no campaign with the slogan & # 39; Citizens Against Drinking Sewage & # 39; won by a 62 percent majority and the idea was dropped.
Experts acknowledge that the unwillingness of people to drink recycled water – although irrational – is a major challenge to overcome.
A report on water reuse released this year by UNSW says: & # 39; People have instinctive and emotional responses human excrement and sewage.
& # 39; Such reactions can create mental barriers to the acceptance of recycled water for drinking. & # 39;
The way to overcome this is, according to the World Health Organization, by winning & # 39; public trust and trust through a productive, two-way engagement process & # 39 ;.
And there is reason to hope that more Australians would be willing to recycle water for drinking.
In Brisbane in 54, 54 percent said they supported the addition of recycled water to the drinking water supply and another 28 percent said they supported the scheme as a back-up measure in dry times.
But even if Melburnians and Sydneysiders do not accept recycling water for drinking, more can still be done.
Sydney & # 39; s mayor Clover Moore is on a crusade to ensure that new buildings are built with a double piping system to use recycled water for non-drinkable purposes.
Sydney & # 39; s mayor Clover Moore (photo) wants the city to recycle more water
The city of Sydney recently built one of Australia's largest urban rainwater recycling facilities on Green Square. Pictured: the Green Square recycling plant
"More than 90 percent of the NSW is in drought, so it is simply unacceptable that most people flush drinking water down the toilet," she told Daily Mail Australia.
& # 39; We must do everything we can to reduce our dependence on drinking water and recycle water to wash our clothing and aquatic plants and gardens. & # 39;
She said that more than half of the water needs of an average household can be supplied with recycled water.
The city of Sydney recently built one of Australia's largest urban rainwater recycling facilities on Green Square.
How good is each state capital in recycling water?
Adelaide has a very large agricultural irrigation scheme, known as the & # 39; Bolivar scheme & # 39 ;. It sends most of its wastewater from its largest treatment plant to the north to irrigate horticulture and vineyards. It has always been the leading city in Australia for reuse, mainly due to this very large schedule.
Perth now has the Groundwater refill scheme that brings recycled water back into the drinking facility. At present, the schedule is not large, but it is intended to recycle 45 percent of the waste water by 2030.
Brisbane in 2010 the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme designed almost all of its water. It was not necessary, but if stores fall below 40 percent, it could be put back into use, which means that the city can recycle the vast majority of the waste water it produces.
Canberra pumps most of its wastewater into the Molonglo River, which flows into the Murray River. It is not recycled in Canberra but used by downstream cities such as Adelaide.
Sydney has a number of important recycling schemes, but these make up less than 10 percent of the waste water. The same applies to Melbourne, Hobart and Darwin.
Source: professor Stuart Khan, UNSW
The $ 8 million facility handles up to 900,000 liters every day and pumps it to local buildings and parks.
The next phase of the project is the treatment of waste water and the return to homes for non-drinkable use.
But the plan has been postponed because water recycling operators say it is currently too expensive to participate.
This is because the government regulations introduced last year enable Sydney Water to bill the companies for discharging waste from the recycled water into the sewer system.
The mayor is campaigning to change this rule to make recycling water more profitable and desirable.
However, the state government says the rules are fair because Sydney Water needs the money to ensure that it doesn't have to set prices in areas that are more difficult to operate outside of the city.
New South Wales Water Minister Melinda Pavey said: “The challenge is the tension between keeping water prices low for ratepayers throughout Sydney and the Illawarra, and encouraging further recycling.”
Although the Lord Mayor's campaign is admirable, there is some doubt as to how effective it will be to preserve our overall water resources.
& # 39; Building houses with dual piping systems that provide recycled water for flushing is a niche solution and has a small impact & # 39 ;, said Professor Khan.
& # 39; The vast majority of our waste water comes from existing houses that are not built to use recycled water.
& # 39; We need to look at the bigger picture and in my opinion we have to put recycled water back into the drinking water supply. & # 39;
Other countries have shown that water can be recycled on a large scale. For example, Israel recycles 90 percent of its wastewater, mostly for irrigation.
However, it is unlikely that water recycling will not solve the problem itself.
Last week, the Labor opposition hurled the government for not building any new dams, despite promising to do so before it came to power in 2015.
Western New South Wales has had no new dam since 1987 and the national dam storage has increased by only three percent since 1990.
During that time our population increased from 17 million to 25 million, which means that the storage levels per person decrease.
A sheep weak from hunger on a severely drought-stricken farm in Coonabarabran, NSW
Labor Agriculture spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon said: & # 39; For six years the government promises dams here, dams there, dams everywhere. But tthe last federal government to build a dam was a Labor government. & # 39;
Federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said the federal government has offered $ 1.3 billion for new infrastructure projects, but state governments are too reluctant to build dams due to costs and environmental issues.
& # 39; They don't keep up with their growing population, & # 39; he said The Australian.
But Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville hit back and said there was no point in building new dams because there is very rarely enough rain to fill them.
& # 39; The dams we already have are in the best places to catch high water yields – it is unlikely that new dams will absorb enough water to be worth it & # 39 ;, she told the newspaper.
& # 39; That Minister Littleproud suggests otherwise demonstrates a complete lack of understanding when it comes to water and climate change, especially in Victoria. & # 39;
Ms. Neville points out that the Thomson Dam of Victoria has only been filled three times since it was built in 1984, most recently in 1996.
She said a better alternative would be to expand the state's desalination plant, although this would increase water bills by at least $ 10 per household, because desalination consumes a lot of electricity.
In other states, however, new dams are on the table.
A view of Warragamba Dam, the largest dam in Sydney, shows how levels have dropped around 50 percent
A proposal is to raise the walls of the Wyangala dam in central West New South Wales by 10 meters for $ 650 million.
Another is to build a dam on the Maryland River near the border between Queensland and New South Wales.
But critics say that there is not enough water in the rivers there and that the scheme would harm local wildlife.
It is clear that something needs to be done to prevent Australia from running dry.
Farmers are paralyzed because they are forced to drive expensive water to keep their livestock and crops alive.
The town of Stanthorpe in southern Queensland is just a few weeks away from water, and charities are just giving kids a brush.
Religious leaders have even resorted to & # 39; pray for rain & # 39; services. Whether they will bring enough rainfall to end the devastating drought remains to be seen.
A proposal is to raise the walls of the Wyangala dam (photo) in the central west of NSW by 10 meters for an amount of $ 650 million
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