Will Toowoomba residents follow overseas countries?
Toowoomba residents will decide by September whether they are desperate enough for water to become the first Australians to drink recycled sewage. The town, a 90-minute drive west of Brisbane, has been on water restrictions for a decade.
The federal government has agreed to part-fund a $67.8million water recycling plant which will top up drinking water supplies – but only with the majority support of the local community.
Parliamentary secretary Malcolm Turnbull has announced that the “innovative and unique” Queensland project would receive $22.9million if a council-run referendum is successful.
The Toowoomba Council proposed the recycling project in June last year to provide a long-term, sustainable water supply for the region.
Mayor Di Thorley said all other options had been considered and rejected, and she would fight any “scare campaign” with the facts. A referendum will cost the community about $400,000.
The Queensland Government has agreed to provide $23million for the project, which has split the community. Some view the process as unsafe, and are concerned tourists and potential residents would avoid the region. But others appear perfectly happy to drink recycled wastewater, as is already done in other countries including Japan, the US, England and Singapore.
Citizens Against Drinking Sewage is working on raising funds for a “no” campaign. “It hasn’t been tried and tested and we don’t want to be the guinea pigs,” says Rosemary Morley.
Toowoomba’s plan is to divert 5000 megalitres (25 per cent) of waste water a year from its sewage works to an advanced treatment plant then pipe it back into Cooby Dam to supplement supplies. The plant would take about 18 months to build and then the process would be tested for a number of years before water began to be used around 2010.