A leading water organisation believes recycling wastewater for drinking could help solve water shortages – if people were happy to drink it.
Over a third of Singapore’s water supply comes from recycled wastewater and the method provides an alternative to river and lake dependence.
But Water New Zealand acting chief executive John Mackie said reusing wastewater may not be popular with the public.
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“The technology is there to turn wastewater into drinking water, but there is also the cultural aspect. The point is how acceptable is that water going to be to people for them to actually use it,” he said.
“There has to be a debate about the acceptability of applying this in a New Zealand context, particularly if we want to maintain our clean, green image.”
Singapore currently has five wastewater treatment plants that process and purify water from sewers.
The practice has been in place since 2002 and the water quality from the plants exceeds the WHO standards for drinking water.
Mackie said recycled wastewater could be used for cleaning and other industrial processes that don’t involve drinking, but this also raises issues.
“I was personally involved in this in the late 1990s where we looked at recycling wastewater for dairy pastures in the Waikato,” he said.
“But the dairy companies at the time wouldn’t entertain that idea, because it would be grass fertilised with human waste that went into the baby formula, and people may not have wanted to buy that baby formula.”
In February, Auckland reached 57 consecutive days with less than 1mm of rain. Dams in the Hunua and Waitakere ranges are currently 30 per cent lower than normal.
Mackie said Auckland needed to relieve the pressure on current water sources by distributing growth, but in reality this was not a problem that was going to be fixed overnight.
“The growth of Auckland city since the water crisis of the late 1990s has been incredible,” Mackie said.
“This is an unprecedented event and due to climate change we’re likely to see more of these unreliable weather patterns, where we have…