Toowoomba residents have voted against recycled drinking water. Or as the ABC have it, “recycled effluent”. One resident, belonging to an organisation named “Citizens Against Drinking Sewage” sums it up: “”It’s just something that in Australia we should never have to consider.”
Well, the good people of Toowoomba are entitled to their opinion and it’s good to see a genuinely democratic process in action. On the other hand, this story is a sad illustration of the ignorance concerning both water usage and environmental management in this country.
Anyone from Europe will be absolutely bemused by the attitude of many Australians to recycled water. They seem to think that it contains some sort of “essence” left over from its previous use. This is exacerbated by the media, who take every opportunity to refer to it as “recycled sewage” or “recycled effluent”, rather than just recycled water. I wonder whether these same people use manure as fertiliser when growing vegetables and if so, whether they believe that eating a carrot is the same as eating horse shit?
In fact, as all schoolchildren are taught in the UK, the recycling process produces fresh, clean, pure water – probably a good deal more pure than that from many natural sources. To summarise: recycled water is…just…water. Drinking sewage is something quite different and altogether less pleasant. I’m against it myself.
The second problem we have is this naive believe that Australia is some sort of bounteous paradise that we can plunder to our hearts content with no consequences. This is a cultural shift that came about early last century – before then, Australia was seen as a harsh, hot unforgiving land of flies, swamps and desert. It’s even drummed into us by the national anthem – “Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare” (and the lesser known second verse, “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”). Hence the quote from the story “something that in Australia we should never have to consider”.
Take a look at this graph of dam levels in SE Queensland. Then ask yourself two questions – is recycled water something we should never have to consider and are we any nearer to understanding how to live in environmental harmony with this wonderful country than the first white settlers?