Australia’s Water Supplies at Risk From Climate Change

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Written By: Emma Websdale

A new study reveals that climate change is putting Australia’s drinking water supplies at serious risk, a condition that could be relieved by desalination plants. 

3029502685Analyzing 41 utilities in Australia and the United States, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) found that Australia’s drinking water was at great risk due to weather extremes caused by climate change, including flooding and bushfires.

“We have always had extreme weather events, that’s nothing new, but we are already seeing the impact of them and it’s broadly accepted these instances will increase”, says Dr. Stuart Khan, leader of the study. “The water supply isn’t secure or cordoned off – we draw water from the environment and that water is subject to a number of different [factors].”

It was noted that climate change would likely affect the quality of drinking water as well as its availability. Ash and phosphorus entering waterways from bushfires, coupled with accelerated growth of bacteria due to hot weather, could result in water supplies that are too harmful to drink.

Water treatment will also become more difficult as bushfires and cyclones introduce turbidity to the water. Turbidity leads to further growth of bacteria and algae, both of which alter the odor and taste of water.

Authors of the study say that while Australia is fairly well prepared for threats to its water supply, greater strides need to be made in diversifying supplies. Seawater desalination plants, which remove salt and other minerals from seawater to produce fresh drinking water, are a viable option. Desalination plants have already played a crucial role in Australia. In 2013, the country’s Gold Coast desalination plant delivered clean water to Brisbane when the area was running out of water after failing to treat high turbidity of water. Desalination plants, though costly, provide cities with great flexibility when water quality is threatened by extreme weather events.

“We need to engineer flexibility to move water around the grid rather than have rigid protocols on where our water comes from. That will help preparedness for extreme weather”, says Khan.

According to the United Nations, approximately 67% of the world’s population will be water stressed by 2025, and already 900 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Without the adoption and implementation of water-efficient strategies and technologies, competition for water sources for agricultural, domestic, industrial and environmental purposes will increase, and the cost of water will rise dramatically.

The recent surge in proposals, bidding and deployment of desalination plants reflects an awareness of the climate-proof potential of desalination and its capacity to separate industrial water demand from public water supplies.

For more information on how Ocean Thermal Energy and Desalination Plants produce fresh drinking water visit our corporate website here.