Australia wasting huge amounts of water

Australia is wasting 92% of its city runoff water and 86% of its effluent water, a leading water scientist from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has warned, calling for a better approach to saving the resource.

Storm water, treated sewage effluent, treated industrial discharges and household laundry and bathroom wastewater, could be used for irrigation of city parks, verges, ovals and other horticultural uses. They could also be used for a number of industrial processes, for cooling water, and for toilet flushing, says Dr Peter Dillon, from CSIRO Land and Water.

However, the main barriers to re-use of water in Australia are issues of public confidence combined with lack of awareness, as well as environmental problems, reliable treatment, storage, economics, a lack of relevant regulations, and poor integration in water resource management, says Dillon. There needs to be a national body or funding organisation dedicated to water re-use, he says.

“The amount of water going to waste is large,” said Dillon. “It constitutes a loss to industry and the environment, inhibits future development and adds to pollution.”

“Although there have been 23 separate research projects aimed at tackling this issue in the last five years, they have mainly been localised, fragmented, leave large gaps in our understanding of what needs to be done and their findings have not been effectively shared,” Dillon added.

Nevertheless, the country’s poor record on water re-use is slowly changing. Over the last four years, re-use of effluent has doubled to 14%, due to AU$300 million (US$163 million) investment around the country.

Water saving, however, would also lead to cash savings, says Dillon. Australia can save AU$1-5 for every 10 kilolitres of water it recycles.

One solution to the storage problems would be to use underground aquifers (see related story and related story). There also needs to be better urban planning in order to reduce demand, Dillon says.

“Water will be in critically short supply for more than a third of the earth’s population during the 21st century,” he said. “By solving our own problems we will not only help Australia – we can also contribute ideas and technologies for addressing one of the most vital aspects of human survival.”

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