The Heat Is Online

Record Drought Will Force Australians To Drink Purified Waste Water

Australians to Swallow Unpalatable Recycled Water, Jan. 30, 2007


SYDNEY - All Australian states will be forced to use purified waste water for drinking if the current 100-year drought continues, said the premier of Queensland state on Monday, after being the first to approve recycled water.


"I think in the end, because of the drought, all of Australia is going to end up drinking recycled purified water," said Peter Beattie, premier of the tropical state of Queensland.


"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 local radio.


Beattie announced on Sunday that Australia's second largest state would become the first to use recycled water for drinking.


But the practice, which is used in Israel, Singapore, the United States and parts of Europe, does not have widespread public support in Australia.


To try to change opinions, Prime Minister John Howard and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull have backed Queensland's move.


"I am very strongly in favour of recycling and Mr Beattie is right and I agree with him completely," Howard said on Monday.


Turnbull said Australian cities, all now facing falling dam levels because of the worst drought on record, must incorporate recycled water in their water plans.


"Recycling is a real option for our cities," Turnbull told reporters on Monday. "All of our big cities have to expand the range of water sources they have and include sources which are not dependent on rainfall," he said.


Australia's other five states and two territories have rejected the use of recycled drinking water, opting for desalination plants or tapping into underground water.



Beattie had promised to hold a statewide vote on the controversial issue of recycled drinking water but said the current drought had left him no choice but to authorise plans to start building water-recycling plants.


"I always indicated that if the drought continued...and we got to a position where we had no choice, we would do it anyway. We're at that no-choice position," he said.

Queensland Water Commission documents predict the state could start running out of drinking water in two years and could be dry by 2009, said Queensland's Courier Mail newspaper.


Beattie said inflows into Queensland dams in December were 80 percent lower than those in December 2004, the previously lowest levels. The dam system that supplies the state capital Brisbane was 20 percent lower than previously lowest levels.

Beattie said some residents would oppose drinking recycled water. The drought-hit Queensland town of Toowoomba, 140 km (85 miles) west of Brisbane, voted against recycled water in 2006, despite a decade of tough water restrictions.


"We've made it clear that the water that we will put in will meet all health and safety requirements and will be probably better than what we're drinking now," he said.