Welcome back Green&Blue friends, in my last blog I talked about the opportunities opened by the integrated wastewater treatment plant in the Smart Cities of the future. But even the smartest design needs solid regulations in order to make it feasible and applicable at even different scales. So, today I’ll introduce a little part of the bigger integrated wastewater management: the legislation and regulation of the water reuse.
The Guidelines of Recycled Water in WA defines recycled water “as water generated from sewage or from industry that is treated to provide fit-for-purpose water quality for its intended beneficial use. Recycled water can be provided for onsite reuse, agriculture, irrigation, industry, potable or other use external to the treatment process. ”
Australia offers some valuable lessons at global level on how maximize the benefits from wastewater management practices. True story: these days I was looking at recycled water regulation in Europe and especially in Italy and I found out a really interesting document about the present and future trend of water reuse in EU and guess what? The Australian guidelines were presented as an example to follow!
So let see at the Australian case: when did Australia start to consider the wastewater as a valuable source of water instead of a waste? In the early 1990s, after the establishment of Environment Protection Authorities in most of the states, water authorities started using recycled water on land as a way to reduce the discharge of nutrients, pathogens and other contaminants in wastewater into receiving waterways (J.C. Radcliffe, 2005). But it was only during the “millennium drought” that happens the real change of attitude. State governments established recycled water targets for the urban water utilities as a key regulatory instrument and funding in support of developing or expanding recycled water schemes (Policy settings, regulatory frameworks and recycled water schemes, 2013). The growth of recycled water increased in response to the drought but also because the community strongly supported a greater non-potable use of recycled water while was still concerned for potable uses.
Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling
In 2006 the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council developed guidelines in consultation with industry for the safe use of recycled water: the document was named Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling.
It offers guidelines for the expanded use of recycled water in a nationally consistent manner, and covers particular sources of water and particular uses. The guidelines are based on a risk management approach, which involves identifying and managing risks in a proactive way, anticipating potential problems and preventing them from arising.
The framework contains 12 elements organised into four main areas
Each state responded to the Australian Guidelines with correspondent state level’s documents. These guidelines are summarized in the table below.
It’s important to notice that these Guidelines despite providing an authoritative reference to support sustainable recycling, they are not prescriptive and can’t be defined as regulations (pg 5). Regulations, in fact, are legally adopted, enforceable, and mandatory, whereas guidelines are advisory and compliance is voluntary.
Recycled Water Regulation
A study conducted by the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence note that a major challenge that regulators and policy-makers across Australia are facing is how to design regulatory approaches that protect public health and safety, while enhancing competition, meeting water security objectives, protecting the environment, and reducing bureaucratic obstacles.
To respond at these objective many agencies have been developing risk-based approaches with many possibilities in their risks classification: by source, treatment train, end-uses, and capacity of operators.
Unfortunately there are cases in which these regulations resulted in complex and time consuming processes, as happened to NSW metropolitan councils trying to develop a successful recycling scheme. They faced 3 major challenges:
- As a result of restructures and natural turnover, there were high possibilities that key contacts in government departments were changed as a scheme was negotiated
- The rules and regulations themselves could shift as government tried to improve and clarify current arrangements in this relatively new area of governance
- With personnel and regulatory changes, interpretation of requirements was likely to be contested and changeable.
As one might expect in any field rapidly evolving as wastewater treatment and reuse, the regulatory, legal, economic, public understanding, and public policy aspects of water reuse are not well aligned and sometimes their implementation is not smooth and cost-effective. Thus, investigation on efficient and effective institutional procedures in order to make all the processes as linear as possible should start addressing these priority areas:
- Efficient regulation
- Clear, efficient, effective and stable approval processes
- Pricing based on cost recovery and ‘whole of water cycle management’ principles
- National coordination and support (technical and economic)
- Clear institutional and market structures
- Role clarity
- Institutional alignment
- Building sector capability (information and training)
- Innovation and collaboration
- Address new and potentially harmful contaminants
- Development of new drinking water technologies
- Partner with states to share more complete data from monitoring at public water systems
Regulation and SDGs
- Recycled water regulation is fundamental to safeguard public health.
2. And to improve water quality of receiving waterways reducing the discharge of nutrients, pathogens and other contaminants.
3. An efficient and effective regulatory framework can help to reduce the pressure on freshwater supply scheme and enhance the sustainability and resilience of cities and communities.
4. And last but not least, it increase community awareness about benefits of water reuse and foster innovation in technologies and infrastructure.
Ok guys, that’s all for today and see you at the next episode!