Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Top option stagnates in the pipeline while Carr rides the wrong flow - SMH op-ed by Malcolm Turnbull.

Download PDFDownload PDF

Top option stagnates in the pipeline while Carr rides the wrong flow - SMH op-ed by Malcolm Turnbull

Monday, July 04, 2005

Bob Carr's monopoly water company, Sydney Water, is Australia's worst polluter.

Every year it pumps 450 billion litres of barely treated sewage into the ocean; seven times more

sewage into the ocean than any other water utility in Australia.

If the Premier had been serious about environmental sustainability during his ten years in office,

we would be recycling our wastewater now, regardless of whether our dams were full or nearly two

thirds empty.

Climate changes have seen significant declines in Sydney’s rainfall and even greater declines in

run-off. The only means by which Sydney can obtain substantial increases in water supply are by

recycling and largescale desalination.

Mr Carr has said that desalination is a cheaper option than recycling, because we would need to

build "17,000 kilometres of piping" to put recycled water into every home. This is nonsense. No-one has proposed, least of all the proponents of recycling, that we should replumb Sydney's

existing households to include a third pipe for recycled water. A third pipe is good design, and is

economical for new developments but not for retrofitting into existing houses.

While it is possible to purify recycled water for use as drinking water there is no need to do so in

Sydney where recycled water can be used for industry and agriculture as well as replacing

environmental flows in rivers. Recycled water can relieve the pressure on our dwindling supplies of

fresh drinking water.

As leading water economist, Dr John Marsden, confirmed on Monday, the cost of producing

recycled water is about half the cost of desalinating seawater. There is a simple reason for that:

desalination uses vastly more energy because the seawater has to be pushed through more

membranes by more powerful pumps than does wastewater.

It is true that the factory gate cost of producing fresh water from wastewater or seawater is only

the beginning of the story. You then have to transport it with pipes and pumps to a point where it

can be used.

The transport costs associated with desalinated water depend on the amount of water produced. If

the plant is going to produce a substantial amount of water, the most feasible point at which it can

be introduced into the Sydney water system is at Prospect reservoir 37 kilometres to the west.

The distance Services Sydney proposes to transport its water, about 42 kilometres, is not

materially longer than that which would be needed for the desalinated water.

Recycling has such a cost advantage over desalination at the factory gate that it can sustain higher

transportation costs, although in the case of Sydney the transport costs are going to be


With energy costs rising as are concerns about global warming, it is incredible that the NSW

Premier would so carelessly dismiss recycling in favour of a more expensive and more energy

intensive technology.

We use a considerable amount of energy today running the ocean outfalls. Recycling replaces the

ocean outfalls, and their energy use. With desalination we continue to burn coal to run the outfalls

and have a much bigger additional energy cost for the desalination plant.

Recycling is on the agenda of every other major city in the world. Israel, where I recently visited

several large water plants, recycles 70% of its wastewater. Many American and European cities

are planning to lift their recycling to that level. I know Mr Carr is proud of the Olympics, but being

the undisputed gold medallist of ocean pollution is a disgrace, not an honour.

Recycling could add more than 50% to our sustainable yield: 300 billion litres. A desalination plant

which produced that much freshwater would not only be the largest in the world, it would have to

run constantly in order to service the enormous capital requirement. The suggestion that a huge

desalination could be built and then only run when it didn’t rain is ridiculous.

Sydney deserves to have an informed debate about water. Both the Premier and Mr Sartor are

quick with one liners but they have not provided any financial or technical material to inform the

discussion. Other governments , California and West Australia for example, have published a

considerable amount of material on these issues so that voters can make informed decisions and

weigh up the pros and cons of different technologies in different environments.

Mr Carr prefers to keep Sydney in the dark about the most pressing environmental issue of our

times and the most egregious and dangerous example of his decade of neglect.

Authorised by M.Turnbull, Level 1, 5A Bronte Rd Bondi Junction NSW 2022