Why are we being asked to conserve water after investment in desalination and purified recycled water?

The SEQ Water Grid and the availability of climate-resilient infrastructure like the Gold Coast Desalination Plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme has provided us with the means to better manage drought conditions. However this infrastructure only mitigates the effects of drought - it does not prevent severe drought.

Seasonal rainfall is still important because it replenishes surface water in dams, which account for most of South East Queensland’s water supply.

It is important to remember that in South East Queensland, we live in a climate of extremes and need to be ready to adjust our water use when conditions change.

We are one region with one water supply. Everyone needs to be water efficient, even when parts of our region experience drier conditions than other areas.

By better managing our water supply we can help delay and even potentially avoid the need for mandatory water restrictions. We understand water restrictions impact our lifestyle and ecomony, so being water efficient whenver we can will help delay restrictions.

What is Realities of Rain?

Realities of Rain is starting the conversation with the South East Queensland community about what we do when we can’t always count on the rain.

In South East Queensland, we can count on all types of rain – there’s wedding day rain, long weekend rain, school holiday rain and just-polished-the-car rain.

In fact, the only rain we can’t count on, is rain when we need it, where we need it.

That’s why we’re planning our water future.

Why are we talking about rain?

Without rain, we don’t have water to live, work and play. Up until now, we’ve relied on dams for our water supply – but these rely on rain falling where and when we need it. 

Dams store water - they don’t make it. With the climate changing and our population growing, just having dams is not going to be enough for the future.

No one wants to see a South East Queensland without enough water to live, work and play the way we want to. 

That’s why we’re planning now - and we want the community to be part of the plan we’re creating.

What can I do now?

We’ve created a hub at yourseqwater.com.au to talk Realities of Rain. What we’d love for you to do is:

1. Register for Realities of Rain e-news and be the first to know when great videos, articles and interesting facts are added to the hub.

2. Read the plan – you can find it in the document library.

3. Take our water survey - we'd like to better understand what you know - and don't know - about water.

4. Book a presentation - we're happy to come to you and talk all things Realities of Rain. You can find our booking form on the front page.

5. Be water wise - there are no conservation measures or water restrictions currently in place, there are some simple things we can do to be more water efficient around the home, school and work. Check the video library for some water wise tips.

6. Start a conversation with your kids, family and friends about water in your community. Do you know where your water comes from? How it is treated? What is our plan is during a drought?

What's the plan?

The Water Security Program is Seqwater's plan for providing the region's drinking water over the next 30 years, including during times of drought and flood.

We released an updated Program in March 2017. Check out our eight-page guide, Water for life: 2017 Annual Report, with the latest information about how our water security program is performing.

We’re going to update the Water Security Program by 2022 and we want to hear your thoughts about what you think about water, it’s supply and things we should be considering when planning for the future.

What is an off-grid community?

We provide bulk water services to urban communities that are not directly connected to the SEQ Water Grid.

Each community has its own water treatment plant and reticulation (piped water network) system.

Seqwater provides bulk water to 16 off-grid communities.

Amity Point, Beaudesert, Boonah-Kalbar, Canungra, Dayboro, Dunwish, Esk, Jimna, Kenilworth, Kilcoy, Kooralbyn, Linville, Lowood, Point Lookout, Rathdowney and Somerset.

You can read more about off-grid communities and how we’re planning for their water futures in Water for life: South East Queensland’s Water Security Program 2016-46.

Desalination

How much energy does desalination use?

Modern desalination plants use advanced technology and energy saving devices which result in them being far less energy intensive than traditional plants.

The Gold Coast Desalination Plant’s use of energy saving devices, combined with carbon offsets, make it extremely energy efficient.

The plant has the capacity to produce 133 million litres of drinking water a day. To produce a million litres of water, the plant consumes about 3.2 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy.

At full production, the plant consumes about 412.3MWh of energy per day, making it one of the most energy-efficient desalination plants in the world.

While in hot standby mode, which means the plant is operating at a third of its capacity, energy consumption has been significantly reduced, saving energy and costs while the region’s water security remains high.


How much does desalination cost?

The desalination plant’s annual operating costs amount to about $12 million to $13 million per annum depending on production. Energy accounts for around 25 per cent of the total operating cost. The operating cost and capital charge for the Gold Coast Desalination Plant (GCDP) accounts for around nine per cent of bulk water charges, or about $33 a year for the average SEQ household bill.


Does desalination impact the environment?

A long-term independent marine monitoring program, designed in conjunction with the State Government and independent marine experts, is in place. It shows that the plant is operating in compliance with licence conditions which have been developed to prevent environmental impacts. Results show small plants and animal organisms are thriving on and around the underwater infrastructure. Footage shows that the sea water intake is providing a habitat for a diverse variety of marine organisms, effectively creating an artificial reef. Real-time monitoring of the quality of the brine discharged back into the ocean includes measurement of pH, chlorine, dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity and salinity.

Purified Recycled Water

Are we using recycled water now?

No, the advanced water treatment plants are not producing purified recycled water for drinking at the moment. But since they were built about 10 years ago, they have always been part of our drought response plan.

Our updated drought response plan, released in 2017, states the purified recycled water treatment plants will be re-started when our key drinking water dam levels reach 60%. This does not mean recycled water will be immediately added to Wivenhoe Dam – it could take up to two years to fully re-start the plants.

But due to our increased understanding of the grid’s capacity to move water around the region, and our intention to ask the community to make voluntary savings earlier when we suspect a drought may be imminent, we can delay the investment required to turn the plants back on until absolutely necessary.

Why produce purified recycle water?

Nature already provides us with recycled water but not always at the right place at the right time. Three purified recycled water treatment plants were built during the Millennium Drought to provide a climate-resilient drinking water source, even in extreme drought. With dam water levels across the region high, the scheme was placed in care and maintenance mode in 2014.

As part of Seqwater’s Drought Response Plan, we will start getting the plants ready to produce recycled water when the combined levels of our key drinking water dams reach 60% of their capacity. Restarting the scheme is estimated to take up to two years. This has not been attempted anywhere else in the world before.

By starting the remobilisation at this point, purified recycled water will be available when needed to replenish Wivenhoe Dam during a severe drought.

As South East Queensland continues to grow and with it our demand for water, the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme is currently in the mix to provide water to meet the region’s demand.

What happens if we don't use purified recycled water?

If we don’t use our purified recycled water treatment plants to provide water, we will need to make up this water deficit with something else, most likely another climate-resilient source such as a desalination plant.

Construction costs for a new climate-resilient water source will run into the billions and would like result in water bills increasing for customers throughout South East Queensland. Using existing infrastructure, rather than build more, is one way we can help put downward pressure on water costs.

Remobilising and operating the scheme will cost a fraction of the amount needed if we were to build a new climate-resilient water source.

Drought

What is drought readiness?

One of the key lessons from the Millennium Drought (2001-2009) was the importance of engaging with the community early when continued dry conditions indicated the possibility of future drought.The Millennium Drought showed our community’s willingness to play their part in helping to conserve our drinking water early.

Taking this into account, Seqwater amended its South East Queensland Drought Response Plan in March 2017 which includes a drought readiness phase designed to better prepare the region for the prospect of drought.

The phase is triggered when the combined grid dam levels drop below 70% and involves a water efficiency campaign that encourages the community to use water wisely while the dry conditions continue.

What should I be doing during the drought readiness phase?

Until a drought response is triggered (when our drinking water dams combined level reaches 60%), we encourage you to: 
  • Monitor your water use so you understand how you use water and where savings can be made. Check your water bill and learn how to check your water meter.
  • Use water efficiently - check out our waterwise tips at seqwater.com.au/waterwise
  • Stay in touch with us on our website and/or social media to understand dam levels and what this means for your water use

When will water restrictions be in place?

When the combined level of drinking water dams are above 70%, there is no need for conservation measures or water restrictions.

When they reach 60%, we will ask the community to voluntarily try to reduce their water use to 150 litres per person, per day. Mandatory restrictions will be introduced once the level reaches 50%.

Even when restrictions aren't in place, there are some simple things we can do to be more water efficient around the home, school and work. Check out our water saving tips https://yourseqwater.com.au/realities-of-rain/news_feed/the-reality-of-saving-water