Australian industries (agriculture, mining, manufacturing, electricity and gas, and others) consume large volumes of fresh water from the environment; and produce wastewater that can be hazardous and expensive to dispose.
As the climate changes, freshwater scarcity intensifies, driving industries to implement intelligent wastewater recycling strategies that reduce freshwater consumption and costs.
This article highlights five reasons for industrial users to recycle their wastewater and reduce their freshwater consumption:
To minimise operational costs
To improve environment sustainability
To gain a positive community image
To insulate from drought conditions
To reduce political risks
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data reveals that industries account for approximately 85 per cent of fresh water consumed in Australia; with households consuming the remaining 15 per cent.
Figure 1.1 Water Consumption - Industry and Households, by State and Territory: Sourced from Australian Bureau of Statistics, catalogue #4610.0, published 26/02/2019
According to the ABS, water consumption within each industry is relatively consistent year-to-year; with agriculture consuming the most fresh water, at over 60 per cent.
A total of 76,000 gigalitres (billion litres) of fresh water was extracted from Australia’s environment during the 2016–17 period, with industries and households paying a combined $17.8 billion for the water.
The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia’s largest source of freshwater, providing nearly three million Australians with potable (drinking) water; and supplying the bulk of industrial freshwater to regional industries.
The basin’s vast system of interconnecting rivers and lakes are highly stressed due to increasing freshwater extraction and a prolonged drought. Water storage levels dropped to just above 30% in 2019; less than half of what they were three years prior.
The Murray-Darling Basin storage levels dropped from 80 per cent in 2016 to 32 per cent in 2019. Sourced from the Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Agriculture) at https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/publications/weekly_update/weekly-update-281119
Freshwater scarcity in the basin is both an environmental issue and an economic one. Murray-Darling Basin water is almost twenty times more expensive today than it was two years ago, with average daily water prices peaking at over $900/ML (million litres) this year.
Average daily price of Murray-Darling Basin water, 2013-2019. Sourced from the Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Agriculture) at https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/publications/weekly_update/weekly-update-281119
The environmental ramifications of a depleted Murray-Darling Basin were heavily publicised in 2019, with massive fish kill events occurring in the region. A multitude of factors likely contributed, with low water levels, high temperatures, and algal blooms reducing the water’s dissolved oxygen content. Hundreds of thousands of fish suffocated, devastating local stakeholders and the broader public; and placing pressure on all levels of government to review the Murray-Darling Basin usage.
Massive Fish Kill Event in the Murray Darling Basin in 2019. Sourced from Facebook: Debbie Newitt
There are many reasons for Australian industries to reduce freshwater consumption – and wastewater treatment is a vital solution.
Intelligent wastewater recycling strategies can simultaneously reduce costs and improve environmental sustainability. There are many established water treatment processes to consider; including filtration, reverse osmosis, ion exchange, aerobic and anaerobic digestion, dissolved air floatation (DAF), and many more.
These treatment processes will be explored in later articles. For more information, go to https://www.westwoodwater.com/articles.