anatomy of a water controversy


There have been several spectacular failures in the implementation of water recycling schemes in Australia. One that resonates was in the south-eastern Queensland town of Toowoomba. After a controversy that caught up players from the local to Federal level, residents voted against recycled water as a solution to a dire water shortage. How might we understand this type of controversy?

The Toowoomba story

Toowoomba is known as ‘Queensland’s Garden City’ and has a population of   over 150,000 people. Most of the water for the gardens and the rest of the city comes from dams. By 2006, however, the total water demand in Toowoomba exceeded supply* and the population were on crippling water restrictions.

In response, the local council developed a policy document supported by State and Federal governments. It included a range of solutions, most prominently the construction of an advanced water treatment plant to provide potable (drinking) quality recycled…

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