While all eyes are on the Illawarra’s dropping dam levels and Sydney’s desalination plant has been switched to bolster dwindling supplies, a Wollongong recycling plant is already reducing demand on our water storages by millions of litres every day.
Just a stone’s throw from the city’s CBD, tucked behind a golf club and close to the beach, the Wollongong Water Recycling Plant plays an important role turning sewage into treated water for industry use.
The treated water is used for everything from watering sporting fields and golf greens to dust suppression and steelmaking –meaning industrial organisations don’t need to suck precious drinking water from the region’s dams.
The Mercury was given a behind-the-scenes look at the Sydney Water plant, located off Port Kembla Road in Wollongong, which last year produced about five billion litres of recycled water for industry use across the city.
“This is 5 billion litres which was not drawn from local dams, which significantly assists in these times of drought,” a Sydney Water spokesman said.
The volume also represents 16 per cent of the drinking water sourced from dams in the Illawarra water delivery system, which stretches from Coledale to Gerroa.
Interestingly, despite dry conditions, the Illawarra’s water consumption in January was lower than during the same month last year.
“The Wollongong Water Recycling Plant, by providing water to local industry and Wollongong council, is significantly reducing the demand on water from the local dams by around 15 million litres of water per day,” Catherine Port, from Sydney Water, said.
The facility, which operates around the clock, is one of 30 water recycling treatment and wastewater treatment plants in Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra.
The plant uses enhanced treatment – mostly microfiltration, reverse osmosis and chlorination – to remove nutrients, bacteria, viruses and dissolved salts from sewage.
It might surprise some, but the wastewater is actually 99 per water –from sinks, baths, showers, laundries and toilets – when it arrives at the plant. Just one per cent of it is solid human waste.
The recycled water, which meets strict industrial and irrigation guidelines, is used by a number of organisations across Wollongong.
Wollongong City Council uses it to irrigate 22 hectares of sporting fields, including JJ Kelly Park. Wollongong Golf Club, next door to the plant, uses about 50 million litres of recycled water each year.
The water is pumped into a dam on-site and irrigates greens and fairways. The Port Kembla Coal Terminal uses recycled water for dust suppression, while BlueScope’s Port Kembla steelworks uses it for steelmaking.
The wastewater treatment process also has other benefits. The plant produced more than 12,000 tonnes of biosolids last year, which were used by farmers across the state as fertiliser, while almost one quarter of the plant’s power needs are produced by cogeneration.
On Friday, the average dam level across Greater Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains was 58.8 per cent.
That figure dipped below 60 per cent last month – the trigger point for the desalination plant at Kurnell.
Illawarra residents don’t directly receive water from the desal plant. However, the spokesman said the water it produced would “reduce the need to draw on drinking water from local dams, which will provide a benefit to all Sydney Water customers”.