Most Australians think it is important to consider alternative water sources

Eight out of 10 Australians believed it is important to consider alternative water sources, such as purified recycled water (PRW) — wastewater that has been thoroughly treated to remove microbial pathogens and chemicals that are a risk to human health — to improve Australia’s water security, according to a national survey carried out by Aurecon.

Looking into Australians’ attitudes to alternative water sources, the survey of more than 1,400 people across states, demographics, ages and incomes, also found that more than one in four were open to serious conversations about incorporating PRW into their future drinking water supply. Aurecon urban water resilience market lead, Darren Romain said PRW could play a key role in boosting Australia’s water security as climate change accelerates.

“With irregular climate events predicted to intensify, the pressure for us to look beyond traditional water infrastructure is mounting,” said Romain. “Cities and towns today tend to feel more comfortable with talking about PRW than a decade ago. During the survey process, we hardly came across entrenched negative sentiment towards PRW. It is evident however, water education in Australia needs improvement.”

The survey, carried out in collaboration with ORIMA, found that experience of water scarcity, and exposure to PRW were important factors in communities accepting alternative sources of water  

“An observation during our survey is that respondents in Orange were much more positively disposed to PRW than the national average,” he added. He said that it was mainly due to the residents’ lived experience of prolonged drought and exposure to a successful stormwater harvesting scheme.

Diversification of water sources is critical according to Adam Lovell, executive director at Water Services Association of Australia. “While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is vital we understand all our options, without having any unduly dismissed.” Lovell said. “PRW has been in use globally since the 1960s, and is growing all the time, with dozens of schemes globally already supplying millions of people’s needs in the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.”

The survey also revealed that when it comes to decision making about local water supply, Australians placed the highest-level of trust in their local water authority, with almost 9 in 10 Australians endorsing them. Stuart Khan, professor and head of school of civil engineering called for better collaboration among the water industry, communities, and government to improve Australia’s water security.

“PRW could provide reliable, cost-competitive, climate resilient drinking water supplies to Australian communities. Its limited implementation has been largely linked to the perception that the public do not support its use, rather than the limitation of science or technical expertise,” he said. “PRW needs more attention if we strive for greater resilience to droughts, bushfires and floods.”

The survey, along with community feedback from recent water plans has made it clear there needs to be more conversations about alternative water sources, according to Lovell. “Many places have undertaken effective education and community engagement activities that led to them adopting PRW as part of safe and climate-resilient water supplies,” he added.