The corporation is modelling its approach on what Orange County, California, is doing: pumping recycled wastewater into aquifers to replenish the ground supply. The aquifers provide free storage, which would otherwise be expensive, and act as a psychological buffer to minimise the "yuck" factor. Even though the water is already drinkable, some people feel the water gets naturally purified through the ground.
In 2012, Water Corporation finished a three-year trial in which it recycled millions of litres of water and tried to change hearts and minds about the process. It built a visitor's centre and representatives gave tours of the water recycling plant and spoke to various local government, community, and Aboriginal groups. This grassroots approach appears to be working, as surveys consistently show 70% support. "Our success has been more about the community engagement and getting that right," Lugar says.
They're now ramping up their capabilities, having recycled 10 billion litres in Perth from 2013 to 2014. Next year, the Water Corporation will unveil a full-scale plant that can routinely recycle 14 billion litres of water annually, and up to 28 billion if needed. Eventually, recycled wastewater could provide 20% of Perth's water supply.
Riches of rain
The combination of recycling, desalination, and – perhaps most importantly – conservation is helping to make Perth drought-proof. "We've become a case study internationally for other countries in terms of how we've managed our response to the drying climate," Lugar says.
That kind of multi-faceted approach is crucial. For example, Scales says, another untapped water source is rain, and if you recycle wastewater and collect all the storm-water that drains into the gutter, you could provide water for an entire city.