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Monday, 22 October 1973
Page: 2457

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - Among the matters covered by the estimates being discussed at the moment in this Parliament the development of a national water resources program will be particularly welcome to Australians wherever they live. It will be welcome to those who live in the rural areas of Australia and the outback areas of Australia, where water historically has been so scarce a commodity. It will be welcome to those who live in the State capitals of this country where it has been realised for the first time in recent years that the supplies of water available are not unlimited. We are faced for the first time in this country with the prospect faced already in other countries of using waste water for drinking and other domestic purposes. The World Health Organisation issued a warning in 1971 which I should draw to the attention of the Committee. It said:

When a choice has to be made between alternative sources, the quality of the raw water (and hence the extent of the treatment required) as well as the adequacy and reliability of the sources, from a quantitative point of view, together with the potentialities for expansion in the future, must be considered. The choice of a source requiring a minimum amount of treatment must always be regarded as preferable to the installation of sophisticated purification plant.

One of the ways in which this problem of the sources of water that we should prefer for drinking purposes has come to the fore is through the decision of the Victorian Government to proceed with the construction of the Yarra Brae Dam and associated facilities on Sugar Loaf Creek and Watsons Creek. This was a decision reached not on the recommendation of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, which is primarily responsible for Melbourne's water supply, but as a result of representations made by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in Victoria. Indeed, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works has strongly opposed the proposal. In evidence he gave in 1966 its engineer pointed out that water from this scheme involved chlorinated supplies to some of the metropolitan consumers, 'to which there would be considerable public opposition while alternative sources of safe unchlorinated supply are available'. He pointed out that 'the high iron content would be a disadvantage to various industries unless special treatment were carried out to reduce the iron, and a large proportion ot the industries in the area would have to be supplied from such a scheme'. That evidence given in 1966 continues to reflect the view of the Board. The present Premier of Victoria, as Minister for Local Government, was obliged to admit in 1971 that the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works had not sought the Yarra Brae proposal and 'was, and is, opposed to it*. He said that it would require a complete reversal of the M & MBW'S traditional policy of drawing water only from closed and uncontaminated catchments.

Since this proposal was first floated in the early 1960s, and since the chief engineer of the M & MBW gave his views on it we have learnt a good deal more about the problems associated with the re-use of waste water for drinking purposes. It has become clear that even the most sophisticated systems of water purification will not deal with all the impurities found in waste water. We know that diseases such as hepatitis are transmitted through water supply, and there have been instances in which hepatitis bacteria passed through even the most sophisticated system of water purification, including chlorination. We know that the purification process does not remove completely the very complicated organic chemicals used in detergents and pesticides, either in their original chemical forms or in the forms into which they break down in water.

If the Victorian Government and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works have carried out analyses of Yarra River water for these refractory organics, they have not pub,lished the results. They have not taken the public into their confidence. Indeed there has been a lack of frankness with the public over this whole question of the impurities of the water proposed for storage and treatment in the Yarra Brae scheme. The World Health Organisation lays down an E. coli count limit of 10 parts per 100 millimetres and the count for Yarra Brae waters published in the 1967 report of the Victorian Public Works Committee was up to 10,000 parts per 100 millilitres. A report, which so far has been kept secret by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, reveals that between 1968 and January of this year the count was up to 35,000 parts per 100 millilitres. Of the samples of Yarra Brae water tested for turbidity 98.3 per cent exceeded the World Health Organisation's highest desirable level and 54 per cent exceeded that Organisation's maximum permissible level. Of the samples of water from Yarra Brae tested for colour 100 per cent exceeded the highest desirable level and 65 per cent exceeded the maximum permissible level. These figures mean that feeding Yarra Brae water into Melbourne's water supply will involve a costly purification process of coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, rapid sand filtration and disinfection.

The Board itself admits that this will be the first complete treatment of water for the metropolitan system and that therefore experience is not available. However, it proposes to proceed immediately with construction of a processing plant from which 10 million gallons a day will be discharged into the Maroondah aqueduct. By the end of 1977 the Board will have installed a 50-million gallon a day treatment plant which will have been built, in the Board's own -words, after a minimal amount of experience in handling Yarra River water. This hurried approach to the provision of additional water for Melbourne's water supply involves treating the people of Melbourne not so much as consumers of water but as guinea pigs in a water purification experiment. The haste with which the business is being tackled seems to me to be most unwise. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works has shown that it is worried. It showed its concern in a recent report which emphasised that the Yarra Brae plant will involve the first complete treatment of water for the metropolitan system and, as such, will be constructed without the benefit of past experience. The report said:

The major reason against initially constructing a pilot plant is that insufficient time in available to-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Berinson) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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