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Recycled water use in Victoria is subject to rigorous oversight and regulation by the Environment Protection Agency. It has been used for various non-potable purposes in Victoria for several decades.
In Victoria, recycled water is treated to either Class A, B or C standards. These classes represent the minimum treatment standards for defined categories of use and ensure that recycled water is used in a way that is fit for purpose.
The required treatment level and associated water quality objectives vary depending upon the nature of a scheme’s end uses. The required treatment level increases with the potential for higher levels of exposure, reflecting the risks associated with particular uses.
In addition to minimum levels of treatment, specific recycled water use may also be subject to site management controls to ensure protection of public health, agriculture and the environment.
Recycled water scheme proponents, such as Victoria’s water corporations, manage recycled water quality under strict regulations that protect human health and the environment. These regulations require them to implement risk-based monitoring programs, procedures and processes to meet their responsibilities under state environmental protection laws.
Under their general environmental duty, recycled water scheme proponents must minimise risks of harm to human health or the environment from pollution or waste so far as reasonably practicable.
Doing what is reasonably practicable means putting measures or controls proportionate to the risks. The greater the risk of harm, the greater the expectation to manage it.
Recycled water guidance
The EPA has developed recycled water guidance that encourages best practices and ensures recycled water is fit for its intended purpose. This EPA guidance covers a range of issues, including treatment processes, water quality standards, risk assessment, and public health protection.
The EPA has adopted a phased approach to guidance for the use of recycled water which to date includes:
- Victorian guideline for water recycling (publication 1910) (released 2021) which focuses on improving approval processes for recycled water schemes and resulted.
- Guideline for irrigation with recycled water (publication 168.3) was published to support the design and management of recycled water irrigation schemes.
The next phase includes a focus on projects to better understand emerging contaminants in recycled water.
Enhancing our understanding of emerging contaminants in recycled water
We are working collaboratively with the EPA and other key stakeholders on several projects to understand emerging contaminants in recycled water better.
The EPA and Victoria’s water sector take a proportionate, risk-based approach to understanding and managing potential risks associated with emerging contaminants in recycled water.
Emerging contaminants still need to be better understood and are largely unregulated. They include pharmaceutical, persistent and bio-accumulative organic pollutants, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, personal care products and industrial or agricultural compounds that can potentially cause harm to the environment or public health. They frequently occur in many manufactured products we rely on, including non-stick cookware, cleaning products and food packaging.
Emerging contaminants can enter our environment (water, sediment, soil, air, dust, biota and plants) via runoff into water catchments and drinking water storage, direct use on land and disposal via our waste systems, and through garbage, sinks, showers, toilets and trade waste. This makes them difficult to track and regulate across sources and uses.
However, technological advances mean we can detect more environmental chemicals today than 5 years ago. Various projects are underway to understand emerging contaminants in recycled water better.
Sampling and analysis of recycled water at sewerage treatment plants
In 2021, with funding assistance from the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action (DEECA), EPA scientists partnered with 13 of Victoria’s water corporations to do a study on emerging contaminants in recycled water.
The study aimed to help Victoria’s water sector better understand emerging contaminants in recycled water, so that potential environmental and public health risks can and managed.
The presence of emerging contaminants in recycled water does not necessarily mean there are risks to the environment and human health. The EPA’s study found no indication that the currently approved uses of recycled water, such as toilet flushing, irrigation, and car washing are unsafe.
Concentrations of emerging contaminants were mostly lower in effluent (treated wastewater) than in influent (raw sewerage). None of the human health-based guidelines were exceeded for the 30 different types of PFAS tested.
The study enhances our state of knowledge on emerging contaminants in recycled water and helps the EPA to identify where there may be new and emerging priority areas for research.
The findings will help the EPA and the water industry to apply a tiered, risk-based management framework approach to ensure harm to the environment and human health is eliminated or minimised to a level that is practical and achievable using the best available technologies.
Our department is investing in further research to build on our current understanding of emerging contaminants in recycled water. We’re growing our understanding supporting the EPA and the water sector to protect public health and the environment.
Through ongoing partnerships with Victoria’s water sector, government agencies and research institutions we can identify emerging contaminants in our environment, assess potential risks and take proportionate action.
Page last updated: 08/09/23