Photo by jdnx via Flickr CC
Drought-stricken Australia needs water. Japan discharges billions of tons of treated sewage water into the ocean. Might cargo ships returning to Australia from Japan haul otherwise-wasted water to the dry continent in their ballasts instead of the usual seawater? It seems like a perfect trade that satisfies several needs, reduces waste, and even reduces the potential for invasive species to hitch a ride from Japan to Australia. The concept for this commercial trade in treated sewage water is going to be tested out within the next two years.
Japan produces about 14 billion tons of treated sewage water annually, but only a fraction -- about 1.5% -- is reused. The bulk of it is dumped into rivers or the ocean. Meanwhile, Australia is hurting for fresh water. There is already a shipping trade of iron ore heading from Australia to Japan, so the plan is to fill the ballasts of cargo ships returning to Australia with treated sewage water. This way, there are no costs associated with treating the water as cargo, and Australia gets a load of fresh water each time a ship returns.
While the water will be used by the mining companies, not as drinking or irrigation water, the new supplies will reduce competition for water resources among other customers. The mines currently use drinkable desalinated water that could otherwise go to crops and people.
Details such as costs, methods of transportation, and whether or not additional treatment will have to be done once the water arrives in Australia will all have to be worked out to make sure it is a savvy trade plan, but if everything works out, it could be the start of a serious water trade between the two countries.
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