Australia is its own continent, completely surrounded by water. Currently, this continent is having multiple problems with water pollution and sustainability. Due to a current heatwave, severe impacts of climate change and years of over allocation for unsustainable agricultural practices, Australia is currently facing a burden in need of a solution. Unfortunately, the heat waves Australian residents are currently dealing with are just the start. Soon, these heat waves are just going to get hotter, longer, and occur more often. The extreme weather conditions have shown to have an effect on the availability and quality of the water. [1. International Business Times: http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/539332/20140218/climate-change-extreme-heat-heatwaves-bushfires-weather.htm#.UwTqcf3dNBW]
In addition to the heat, the disposal of waste into the already small reserve of water is adding to the problem. Australia is working on different methods of disposing both hazardous and nonhazardous waste in a safe and efficient manner in order to ensure the safety of the environment and its people; however, waste is currently left in dumping grounds or left to be transported overseas, leaving the continent with a problem in need of fixing.
Because of Australia’s uncertain climate and severe droughts, it has forced them to change the way water is managed and has led to successive periods of water reform in the country. Australia is now recognized as the world leader in water policy. [2. ABC Rural: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-26/australia-new-water-hub/4653690]
After dealing with almost a decade of severe drought in 2007, the go-ahead was given to build a new and improved Cotter Dam. The four-year construction started in 2009 and was finally finished and ready to run by October 2013. The new dam will help relieve the burden of harsh water restrictions on the Canberra community for future generations to come. The increase capacity from 4ML to 78ML will add an extra 35% to total water storage for Canberra and the surrounding regions. [3. International Water Power and Dam Construction: http://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featurecotter-dam-australia-4178995/]
Another solution to the water shortage was recently approved by the Papua New Guinea government. [4. Maritime Executive: http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Australia-Wants-Water-Piped-from-PNG–2014-01-30/] A proposal was recently pitched to pipe water from PNG to the northern tip of Australia. PNG has abundant water resources and this project seeks to utilize them to supply Australian users in the Murray-Darling Basin where there is a huge existing demand. The Murray-Darling Basin is one of the most significant agricultural areas in Australia. Half of the water used in Australia comes from the Murray-Darling Basin, even though this area has only 6% of Australia’s total surface water runoff. [5. This comes from the National Water Commission in of Australian Government. http://archive.nwc.gov.au/availability/use/australia]
Water reform is needed in the Murray-Darling Basin area to deliver healthy rivers, strong communities, and sustainable food and fiber production. Although the Basin water has supported local economic growth, it has also damaged the environment. Industries and communities also suffer from environmental damage and poor water quality. In order to ensure the long-term health of the Basin, a more balanced distribution of water is needed. Without a healthy river, water quality deteriorates as salt and minerals build up in the system. Floodplains deteriorate, affecting their ability to sustain agriculture. By restoring regular flows to the Basin, Australia hopes to improve environmental health and deliver benefits to all users.
The Australian government is undertaking a range of actions to advance urban water reforms. These will help secure urban water supplies, use water wisely, address the challenges of climate change, and support healthy rivers. Progress to date on these reforms include an inquiry into Australia’s urban water-sector, National Urban Water planning principles, National Water Initiative pricing principles, centers of excellence in desalination and water recycling, improving water and wastewater services in Indigenous communities, national clearing house for urban water, a national system for reporting urban water consumption and a review of current water restrictions. [6. Australian Government – Department of the Environment: http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/water/basin-plan/need-water-reform]
Below is a graphic portraying Australia’s annual water use in states and territories. As you can tell, most of the water goes towards uses in the field of agriculture with household use taking second place. By looking at the breakdown of water resources, you can tell that each area uses water for different tasks and reasons. In some areas, mining takes up a significant chunk of water supplies, while in others mining barely makes a dent.
Below is a clip of Dr. Jeff Connor, the group leader of CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, which is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. This interview was done before the 8th Australian Water Summit back in October 2010, where Dr. Jeff Connor was a speaker. Here he answers a few questions regarding water issues in Australia. [1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x77JLYcJ6ws]
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