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Critics pooh-poohed water scheme but ex-mayor says sewage is solution

Despite the political backlash, Ms Thorley said she had no regrets and her position on recycled water had not changed.

“[It’s the] elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about because they’ll lose the election,” she said.

“And still nobody wants to talk about it.

“This is the way we have to go and I know everybody thinks it [water] has to come out of the sky but nobody wants to take into account the depreciating graph of rainfall.”

Ms Thorley said: “it’s just time that they hit that go button”.

“The majority of the public, if they’re not put into some sort of fear campaign, pretty much have a lot of commonsense,” she said.

Recycled water is highly-treated wastewater that has been cleaned and disinfected through the sewage treatment process.

Under the SEQ Drought Response Plan, Seqwater must consider a full restart of the partially-mothballed $2.6 billion Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme when the water grid’s dam levels fall below 60 per cent.

Despite weather forecasters previously predicting a wet summer, the grid was sitting at 57.1 per cent on Tuesday, with only 19 days left of summer.

In December, when the dams were at 54.9 per cent capacity, budget estimates hearings were told money had been allocated for an “initial start-up” of the scheme.

But Seqwater chief executive Neil Brennan said the situation would be reassessed in 2021.

“We have until February-March before we need to go into full restarting on the Western Corridor scheme,” he told estimates.

It will take up to two years to fully restart the scheme, which was put into “care and maintenance mode” in 2013.

The water grid would have to hit 40 per cent before Seqwater asked the Water Minister to sign off on adding recycled water to the drinking supply.

Water Minister Glenn Butcher said the government was working with Seqwater to reduce the drain of drinking water from Wivenhoe and Somerset dams by increasing the supply of recycled water to industrial customers.

“Any decision on the use of the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme will be made after taking into account any rainfall and inflows and will consider community input,” he said.

Mayor Di Thorley enters a polling station during the referendum on recycled water in 2006.

Mayor Di Thorley enters a polling station during the referendum on recycled water in 2006.Credit:Paul Harris

Mr Brennan said the Bureau of Meteorology had forecast strong La Nina conditions for south-east Queensland over summer, which was traditionally associated with higher-than-average rainfall.

“This outlook suggests it is prudent to wait until the end of summer before considering the restart of the remaining capacity of the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme.”

Mr Brennan said the scheme was not currently producing drinking water but could be restarted as required as part of its drought response.

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“While the Drought Response Plan sets triggers for action, the plan is intended to be adaptive allowing decisions to be made according to circumstances at the time,” he said.

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