More community awareness needed on recycled water: report

Recycled water could be a valuable resource if there was more community awareness surrounding it and better guidelines for using it, according to the Victorian Auditor General.

A new audit from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office looked at how selected government approached recycled water and explored the barriers associated with it.

It looked at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA), Barwon Water and City of Greater Geelong.

“The Victorian Government estimates that the demand for water could exceed our supply in some areas of Victoria as early as this decade due to population growth and climate change,” the audit said.

“To prevent this, the water sector must take further action to increase our water supply and efficiency.

“Optimising recycled water use will help to address this risk by reducing the pressure on drinking water.”

Barriers to using recycled water

The audit found that the use of recycled water has not increased over the past decade and many Victorians have a basic understanding of water security and the risks and benefits of recycled water.

“The Victorian Government allows water customers to use recycled water for non-drinking purposes,” the report said.

“While the amount of wastewater produced over the last 10 years has increased with the state’s population growth, the amount recycled has not increased at the same rate.”

This could be due to barriers of using recycled water, some of which include community attitudes, policy and regulatory settings limiting recycled water use and physical and economic barriers.

“Many Victorian water users are not aware of the state’s water security challenges,” the report said.

“They consider recycled water high risk and have indicated a preference to use drinking water for purposes that a lesser-quality water source would satisfy. This is even in situations where recycled water costs less than drinking water.”

Physical barriers, such as the distance between wastewater treatment plants and potential customers, can also affect the use of recycled water, along with economic barriers, such as the cost of recycled water projects.

“The relatively high cost of producing, distributing and storing recycled wate rcompared to drinking water and the availability of funding and costing policies can be barriers to supplying and using recycled water,” the report said.

In March 2021, Barwon Water conducted a concept and cost study into using recycled water for drinking water.

“The study found that the cost of using recycled water for drinking water is not significantly different to the cost of desalinating seawater,” the report said.

VAGO recommendations

VAGO made three recommendations to DELWP, including one to improve community understanding and two about measuring and reporting recycled water use.

“DELWP engages with the community when it is developing policies. Its engagement, which focuses on the whole water cycle, has led to insights into recycled-water-related issues,” the report said.

VAGO also made a recommendation to the EPA about developing guidelines for using recycled water for environmental flows.

Both the DELWP and EPA have accepted the recommendations.

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