Preliminary Response to Lockyer Renewed Water Proposal
MEMODecember 15, 2000
Submission to State Development Department and QLD EPA
Preliminary Response to Lockyer Renewed Water Proposal
BREC acknowledges the urgency of water problems in the Lockyer and we support the safe reuse of wastewater. However, we believe that the Lockyer renewed water should have more detailed studies about the technology, it effectiveness and the long term capability of the environment to absorb the nutrients, toxicants and other contaminants.
BREC believes that the plan in its current form inadequately addresses concerns about salinity, pathogens, trace elements such as copper and potential groundwater pollution.
The high salinity in the Lockyer groundwater is indicative of saline parent materials(Marburg Formation). This means that a wide range of salts( eg NaCl, MgCl, Mg SO4) are mobilised and present in the soil. Importation of further salts into this system can only upset the delicate balance sustaining the rich lockyer agricultural system.
These parent materials give rise to soils naturally high in sodium. The addition of wastewater containing high levels of sodium, from industrial pH neutralisation processes, will give rise to sodicity problems very quickly. Amelioration of sodicity problems being an order of magntude higher than salinity,
The current draft shows that some areas already have nitrogen levels in groundwater above WHO standards. If the current levels of Nitrogen loading are exceeding Moreton bays capacity,to absorb given its size volume of flushing and the amount of fish and other protiens harvested, agriculture in the Lockyer Valley would also not be able to take up all the nutrient imports. A certain amount of nitrogen in the wastewater applied must percolate lower in the soils profile and finds its way into the groundwater system. This is an example of the impacts of just one nutrient.
Essential trace elements (micro nutrients Zn,Mo,Bo,Cu etc) are present in elevated levels in wastewater small additions of these elements to the soil can lift levels of these trace elements in the soil solution to toxic concentrations very quickly. In addition to trace elements other contaimants from industrial processes can be present in wastewater(see Variability section below).
Pathogens and Pharmaceutical by-products
The standards for pathogens presented are still inadequate to address our concerns. The recommended level of viruses will still allow millions of viruses and other pathogens to be discharged to freshwater systems.
The proposed standards of E. Coli <10/100ml, <1 Virus/50L, <1 Cryptosporidium or Gardia/ 50L and <1 helminth/1L may seem reasonable but when multiplied by 146,000,000L of wastewater it looks dangerous. This reveals that 7,300 Million E Coli , 70 Million virus, 70 Million Cryptosporidium or gardia and 70 Million helminths will be pased on every year !
Given the number of potential animal vectors associated with these systems and their possible contact with humans the presence of pathogens poses a risk to public safety. Research carried out at the UQ by Dr Peter Henry in 1998 by the Waste Use Research Project revealed the presence of a range of antibiotic resistant bacteria in wastewater samples from all around the SEQ region. The recent discovery reported in the New Scientist in Nov 2000 of new strain of polio virus in the sewerage system of Paris is further confirmation the potential risks. A recent CSIRO Report indicated that current waste treatment technologies could not eliminate all pathogens from wastewater. The range of possible routes for virus dispersal can include waters, plants and animals.
In addition to pathogens wastewater also contains the metabolic by-products of a range of pharmaceutical's. These can include potential endocrine disruptors, antibiotics and by-products of hypertension drugs. The range of potential by-products is enormous and most have yet to be tested for, in any SEQ wastewaters.
The lands marked as suitable for use in the latest draft of the study include large amounts of land immediately adjacent to watercourses. This does not provide a sufficient buffer distance to protect stream water quality.
Groundwater Impacts of Wastewater
A CSIRO Study found that there was permanent damage caused by the release of wastewater in groundwaters. The fine particles in the wastewater eventually and permanently reduces the porosity of the aquifer.
Variability of Wastewaters
The quality of wastewater is highly variable and largely unpredictable. Large slugs of contaminants and water volumes can arrive suddenly and treatment systems can fail. Wastewater quality is linked to the quality and quantity of industrial trade waste discharges of Phenols, Hydrocarbons, acids, Zinc and Chromium to name a few.
Outbreaks of diseases in the general population eg hepatitis will also impact on wastewater quality and safety.
Here it comes need it or not !
There is a fundamental difference between irrigation and wastewater disposal. In an water use efficient irrigation system water should be applied only when requred by the crop and current weather conditions. In wastewater disposal the volumes of water must be used irrespective of need or stored. Both use and storage can be impossible during likely wet weather periods as indicated by historical weather data.
The Queensland Draft Water Recycling Strategy was not endorsed by the conservation movement. The advisory committee continually ignored our concerns over health issues and seemed to actively suppress reports indicating the known dangers.
This is not the full extent of our concerns and we have yet to receive a full copy of the December 2000 draft proposal or Kinhill April 1999 reports. We have further concerns about the costs involved and any implications on National Competition policy compliance.
Michael Petter Coordinator
Greg Spilsbury Field Officer - Waste