The Colac Herald presented news this week of plans to pipe waste water from Black Rock Treatment Plant to refurnish 'at risk' lakes like Lake Colac.
At first glance this would seem like a worthy project, recycled water currently going into the ocean being put to better use.
However there are other water bodies at arguably far greater risk. The Moorabool River is recognised as the most flow stressed river in the state and the Barwon river is fast approaching a similar condition, ceasing to flow for several months this season. Both heavily impacted by over allocation of their water resources. Urban water authorities, bore field extractions, irrigators, and farm dams all play a part while climate change is playing an increasing role. These rivers already have a call on water freed up when recycled water is used to supplement drinking water supplies in the not too distant future.
The Victorian Government Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy has dictated the region's water policy for the last 15 years. It delivered small environmental allocations to both the Moorabool and Barwon rivers but recognised far more needed to be done. In spelling out future options “the substitution of potable water with treated recycled water” in Geelong and Ballarat was flagged to deliver an extra 6,500ML to the Moorabool River.It gave hope to people who had seen the Moorabool River increasingly struggling to survive year in year out.
Barwon Water is also seemingly committed to this path declaring one of their measures of success in 2023 to be; “We have engaged deeply with our customers and have general acceptance on the appropriateness of drinking high quality recycled water for long-term water supply opportunities (beyond 2030).”
If we as a country are intent on maintaining high levels of immigration to support our economy then it is obvious that drinking water will need to be supplemented by suitably treated recycled water. Many other countries around the world use this resource as a matter of course.
Extracting more from highly stressed waterways is not an option. Recycled water should be seen as a precious resource, requiring less energy to bring to drinking water standards than desalination, and the bulk of it should be retained as a future resource to sustain our growing towns and cities.
This will hopefully allow us to ease flow stress on some of the most over allocated rivers in the region. After all it is they which have historically supplied the majority of our drinking water. Assisting to rescue rivers like the Moorabool from an otherwise extremely bleak future needs to be the first port of call in any decisions on the potential uses of recycled water.