We are the lab rats for Australia
- From: "Pangkor" <Daqtaoge@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 20 Jun 2006 10:21:06 -0700
ROSEMARY MORLEY: Absolutely. We are the lab rats for Australia, I call
us. And it's a political push. While Beattie is determined to put dams
for the Brisbane area, he is also determined to support the mayor in
her project to bring this crazy scheme to this city.
SALLY SARA: Water has become the number one political issue in
Toowoomba. It seems dry times are creating deep divisions.
Waste not, water not
10 June 2006
Toowoomba is the first battleground in the recycled water debate,
writes Brendan O'Malley
Blog wars, threatening phone calls, fiery debates in the council
chambers. Welcome to the countdown to Toowoomba's referendum on
recycled drinking water.
For a city with a well-earned reputation for restrained, conservative
values, life has suddenly become far more controversial since the
community started grappling with the concept of pumping treated sewage
into its main dam.
The debate gathered pace a fortnight ago when the council, led by Mayor
Di Thorley, started a $460,000 ratepayer-funded advertising campaign
which in the next seven weeks will splurge almost $7000 a day trying to
convince 60,000 residents - many deeply conservative people from
rural backgrounds - to become guinea pigs in the world's most
ambitious wastewater recycling scheme.
Opposition to the proposal is relying on a blog campaign, petitions and
public meetings, one of which attracted 1000 people.
If a majority vote 'yes' on July 29, the equivalent of up to 11,000
Olympic swimming pools a year of sewage will be passed through a series
of filters and ultraviolet disinfection equipment, pumped back into
Cooby Dam, treated again and then sent flowing into kitchen taps, water
fountains, showers and restaurants.
One drop out of every four will be recycled -25 times the level of
the water in Singapore, the only other major urban area where
wastewater is pumped directly into dams. And it will cost ratepayers
$18 million for the privilege of reusing what they flushed down the
If the vote is 'no', then water charges could rise ninefold, Thorley
warns, because the council simply cannot borrow the $69 million she
says is needed for its share of the cost of building a pipeline to
Wivenhoe Dam, the next most viable option.
Instead, the State Government would have to step in, forcing Toowoomba
to buy water from it at bulk rates of between $3 and $5 for every 100
"We have to do something. What is my city doing carting buckets to
water the garden? We're not in the Third World," she said.
A Council study estimated the cost of alternatives other than recycling
- bores tapping the Condamine River system; water from a coal seam
gas plant near Chinchilla; swapping water with cotton farmers or
damming Emu Creek - were too expensive.
Opponents within and outside council, including the Chamber of Commerce
and Toowoomba's wealthiest man Clive Berghofer say the proposal is
potentially unsafe, unable to provide the city with enough water either
in the short term or in 10 years, and is bad for the town's public
It is a quandary the rest of southeast Queensland will face if there is
no significant rain in the Wivenhoe catchment next summer.
Premier Peter Beattie conceded last week that although topping up
Wivenhoe was not government policy, it did remain an 'Armageddon
solution', prompting a relieved Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman to
say that 'the bogey man' was now out.
Newman's water spokesman, Jane Prentice, said the Brisbane City
Council's priority was to provide recycled water for business users.
It planned to double the capacity of its reverse osmosis recycling
facility at Brisbane's Luggage Point sewage treatment plant and build
new RO facilities at nearby Gibson Island and Wynnum treatment plants.
Most of the water would go to the Trade Coast precinct near the
Brisbane Airport, the Swanbank, Tarong and Tarong North power stations
and Brisbane Airport. "That still leaves us with 100 million litres of
class A water from Luggage Point," Prentice said. "The longer-term
suggestion is that should be connected to the Western Corridor
pipeline, but if you're going to pipe water (from there) into
Wivenhoe, there are six councils using it, so it's not just our
Nothing will happen soon.
Toowoomba's proposal does not come on line until 2011 at the earliest
and it normally takes 18 months to build a reverse osmosis plant, so
even industrial users in Brisbane will have to wait.
The first step, however, is winning over the public, which is why all
eyes are on Toowoomba.
"I grew up on an orchard at Eukey, and some of my earliest memories are
filling up kerosene tins from the creek and pulling them back up to the
farm on a sled behind the horse," Thorley says. "Many people here have
close ties to the land . . . you only have to drive five minutes and
you're in the country. I have faith this community will make the
Although the council has done private polling Cr Thorley is giving
nothing away on how feeling is running.
She has a lot riding on the issue considering she wants to run for
mayor again. She doesn't rise to the bait when asked if other
southeast Queensland land mayors and Premier Beattie have left her to
make the running. Her council's engineering director Kev Flanagan
backs her up: "Di is carrying the load for the whole of Australia.
Everybody is watching this referendum."
Thorley concedes it was a smart political move by local federal member,
Ian Macfarlane, to ask Canberra to make a $23 million Commonwealth
grant underwriting the project conditional on a referendum.
Whichever way the vote goes, Macfarlane can say it was not his fault.
He was a supporter until late August because the council assured him it
had community support.
That was when the Citizens Against Drinking Sewage lobby group handed
over the biggest petition he has ever seen.
"When 8000 signatures land on your desk it cements the view I've been
getting that people have questions," he said. "This is four to five
times as big as any petition I've seen in Toowoomba. As the local
representative I can't just blow that away and the risk we take is if
the council is thrown out in 2008 we're left with a white elephant."
Flanagan defends the council's report into the alternatives, saying
it was peer-reviewed by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines
and independently costed.
He has had teams out drilling into the basalt aquifer under the city
but says groundwater levels have been dropping since the 1960s, while
Toowoomba's position at the top of the Great Dividing Range makes
pumping water from Emu Creek, Wivenhoe, or coal seam and bore sources
north of the city prohibitively expensive.
He also has no doubts about the safety of recycled water, handing over
a bottle of Singapore water for a taste test (it looks and smells good,
but the taste is unusual for anyone used to chlorinated water).
Wastewater experts at The University of Queensland and interstate
backed him up, telling The Courier-Mail there were so many layers in
the purification process a failure effectively was impossible.
Anti-recycling campaigner Snow Manners, who claims to have done his own
polling, is predicting a resounding 'no' vote.
"There is little economic sense in it, there have been no proper
independent reports into the alternatives and they're talking about
closing Cooby Dam to fishing. This idea is full of holes."
Manners claimed the council had lost the plot on the issue.
He says he received a phone message threatening to extract 'an for an
eye and a tooth for tooth'.
CADS spokeswoman Rosemary Morley also received a message warning her if
she kept 'throwing rocks' they might fall on her head.
The debate has also created tensions within council.
Councillors could not even agree the wording of the referendum
question, which now reads: 'Do you support the addition of purified
recycled water to Toowoomba's water supply via Cooby Dam proposed by
Water Futures Toowoomba?'
"The question is rigged. People should be asked if they are in favour
of recycling drinking water from the Wetalla wastewater plant but our
amendment was voted down," Cr Lyle Shelton says.
"I'm very worried the community feeling is going with the council
because of the misinformation in its education campaign, which is
actually promotion of their yes case."
"Toowoomba has every option Brisbane has, including taking water from
Wivenhoe which is only 30km from Cressbrook Dam, we just haven't been
The man who pushed through Cressbrook, Clive Berghofer, is not
impressed with recycling either.
"People are already calling us Peewoomba. This is all about perception
and those kind of perceptions can do a lot of harm," says Berghofer.
"It's more than drinking it. The kids have to bath in it, you have to
cook in it and we've got companies like Weis Icecreams and KR Darling
Downs which will use this water."
"They've got competitors who could use it against them and customers
in Japan who are very sensitive about chemicals."
The man on Australia's top-200 rich list denies he has his own
commercial interests in mind.
"I'm worth $280 million. I don't care if I make another dollar."
In the meantime life without rain goes on.
A road sign on the outskirts of Toowoomba reminds people about Level
Four water restrictions, as if anyone needs reminding out here.
People like pensioner Betty Sullivan, 77, and her daughter Debra
Twidale continue to lug heavy buckets of water to their plants in an
effort to keep them going.
By August even that will be illegal.
"We're not entering the Carnival of Flowers this year. It was too
much work last year for Mum, she was carrying 220 buckets a day," Debra
says, surveying her front yard.
Maybe Toowoomba will have to stop calling itself the Garden City.
posted by Concerned Ratepayer at 9:55 AM | 0 comments
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