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Perth Relies on Recycled Water to Cope up with Climate Change in Australia

Perth is a city of two million people, and Clare Lugar from Western Australia's Water Corporation said it has had to get used to climatic changes

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drought, climate change .australia, recycled water
More than 95 percent of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, is officially in drought. Wikimedia Commons

As drought-hit towns across New South Wales and Queensland edge closer to completely running out of water, federal and state governments in Australia are trying to come up with ways to guarantee supplies into the future. But on the other side of the continent, the city of Perth is leagues ahead in its water efficiency following a long-term decline in rainfall. Part of its survival plan relies on recycled water from toilets, a move that many consumers elsewhere still consider to be unpalatable.

Since 2017, residents in the Western Australian city of Perth have been drinking water recycled from sewage. It is filtered using a process called reverse osmosis, which is similar to forcing water through a giant sponge. It is then disinfected with ultra-violet light at a treatment plant, pumped into natural aquifers, and extracted.

Perth is a city of two million people, and Clare Lugar from Western Australia’s Water Corporation said it has had to get used to climatic changes. “We know from the mid-70s onwards Perth’s rainfall has been declining by about 20 percent, and that has had a huge impact on our water sources that are dependent on the climate.”

australia, drought, climate change
FILE – The drought-affected Darling River sits well below its banks at Pooncarie, a town in outback western New South Wales, Australia, April 25, 2019. VOA

Lugar said convincing residents of the benefits of drinking recycled sewage did take time. “So, it is only a small percentage of the water that comes into the plant is actually from our toilets. But getting over that perception, that kind of image you might be drinking the water that you flushing down the toilet – that was probably one of our big challenges initially,” said Lugar.

Two desalination plants supply about half of Perth’s water. Aquifers are also crucial, but recycling produces only two percent of the total. But that figure is soon expected to rise. Ian Wright, an expert in environmental science at Western Sydney University, believes other parts of Australia should embrace recycling.

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“In Sydney that is probably 150 liters per day per person of waste water that is completely wasted, and, yes, we have the availability of desalination on the coast, but Canberra does not have desalination and then the poor drought-stricken towns like Tamworth and Dubbo, and Broken Hill, they could really, really use that now,” he said.

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent. Water is precious, and, in many places, scarce. More than 95 percent of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, is officially in drought, and the next three months are forecast to be drier than average. (VOA)

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Worsening Extreme Weather Linked to Climate Change Creating Hardships for Many

Julia Sanger, whose tiny ice cream shop flooded twice in two years in Maryland's historic Ellicott City, joked darkly that the disasters left many local business owners

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Weather, Climate Change, Hardships
FILE - A man walks in a torrential downpour in Ellicott City, Maryland, April 30, 2014. VOA

Worsening extreme weather linked to climate change is creating hardships for many, from immediate deaths and injuries to increases in asthma and heat stroke. But the psychological trauma that often accompanies such losses is barely on the map.

Depression, anxiety, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder tend to increase after floods, storms, wildfires and heat waves, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), which represents psychologists in the United States.

“The problem with that link is it’s not like so obvious. It’s not like I stick a needle in you, you feel pain right away,” said Anthony Ng, former head of the APA’s caucus on climate change and mental health.

“Some of this is so insidious and gradual that people won’t realize it until it’s too late. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to appreciate it.”

Panic

Weather, Climate Change, Hardships
FILE – A car drives on the main street of the former mill town in Ellicott City, Maryland, Aug. 23, 2018. VOA

The debate over how to safeguard residents of picturesque Ellicott City, a tourist draw an hour’s drive north of Washington, D.C., illustrates the challenges many towns are facing as the world becomes warmer and wetter.

The town was devastated in 2016 by a so-called 1,000-year flood — meaning a magnitude with a one-in-1,000 chance of occurring in any year. The Patapsco River, which runs through the town, rose more than 13 feet in less than two hours.

Less than two years later, a 1,000-year storm struck again, overwhelming the tributaries that converge under the old mill town’s buildings and feed into the Patapsco.

Warmer temperatures are increasing heavy downpours, and rainfall has been growing in intensity in the Northeast, according to the government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment, risking power outages and the viability of roads and bridges.

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As Ellicott City has become more built up, floodwater flows across paved roads and rooftops, instead of percolating down through the soil as it used to — a phenomenon known as urban runoff, which is worsening globally as cities grow.

In the wake of the 2018 floods, the county launched the Ellicott City Safe and Sound plan, which involves demolishing some old buildings, making tunnels to carry water under roads and clearing waterways more regularly.

Officials are also testing a flood warning system, with emergency sirens telling people to move to higher ground. It has caused some alarm among residents, said Amy Miller, a social worker at the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center.

“You almost have a panic response,” said Miller, whose non-profit organization, based in Columbia, some 8 miles (13 km) south, has provided food, shelter and support to flood survivors.

Weather, Climate Change, Hardships
FILE – Damage along Main Street in historic Ellicott City, Maryland, is viewed Aug. 1, 2016, after the city was ravaged by floodwaters, killing two people and causing devastating damage to homes and businesses, officials said. VOA

“We’re basically exposing ourselves to the perceived threat of a traumatic event.”

Suicides

Grassroots provides 24-hour counseling to people in Ellicott City and the surrounding rolling hills of Howard County who might be feeling suicidal.

Miller has trained farmers to watch out for each other and spot signs of danger, particularly suicide risks.

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Farmers are a high risk group. They tend to live solitary lives, have access to lethal means and face financial stress when hit by poor weather and low prices — factors they cannot control, according to anti-suicide campaigners.

“When your livelihood is impacted, that causes hopelessness,” Miller said. “The hard part for farmers is they work almost 24-7, and it’s really hard for them to seek treatment.”

Stanford University predicted last year that a hotter planet could lead to a surge in suicides by 2050. Its data analysis found suicides had risen 0.7% in the United States and 2.1% in Mexico with a 1°C increase in monthly average temperatures.

The researchers also found — by analyzing the language used in more than a half billion Twitter posts — depressive language increased during hot weather, suggesting worse mental health.

Weather, Climate Change, Hardships
FILE – Residents gather by a bridge to look at cars left crumpled in one of the tributaries of the Patapsco River that burst its banks as it channeled through historic Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland, May 28, 2018. VOA

Keith Ohlinger, one of the Howard County farmers trained to keep an eye out, said he was driven to the work by the suicide of a young friend who grew up on a nearby farm, planned a career in agriculture and took her own life last year at age 21.

He struggled this spring with heavy rains washing away seeds and soil and leaving hay too wet to be dried and stored for winter feeding.

“Things are changing,” he said. “The Earth is changing, patterns are changing. Things are melting.”

Ohlinger uses his position on the Maryland Agricultural Commission, which advises the government on farming, and at monthly farmers club meetings to bring up mental health, often taboo in the conservative agricultural community.

He said climate change was just one more stress for farmers already worried about commodity prices, credit, bank loans, the price of equipment and old family-run farms being squeezed out by more and more giant residential homes known as McMansions.

“I can’t fix pricing. I can’t fix what the Chinese president or Donald Trump does, but I can surely try and keep someone from killing themselves,” Ohlinger said.

Not everyone in the region is willing to make the link between mental health problems and climate change.

Global warming as a manmade phenomenon is a politically divisive topic in the United States, where President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement, a global pact to fight climate change.

“You talk about global warming, but we deal with this stuff all the time,” said another Howard County farmer, Howie Feago.

“Most farmers believe it’s more of an ebb and flow. We know that the weather is going to be up and down. If you’re going to worry about global warming, you probably ought to get some other kind of job because it will drive you nuts.” (VOA)