Water utilities urged to adapt to risk from extreme weather events

Jan 22, 2014

Australian water utilities must adapt to extreme weather events if they are to protect vulnerable supplies and ensure clean drinking water into the future, an international report warns.

Events such as flooding, prolonged rainfall, drought, cyclones and bushfires all have an impact on surface water quality, and are predicted to become more frequent and intense in many parts of Australia due to climate change.

"Water quality impacts from these events are diverse but can include the presence of highly toxic chemicals and infectious pathogens," says Dr Stuart Khan from the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Utilities without appropriate contingency plans will be at a major disadvantage when recovering from and adapting to these future weather-related impacts."

Khan is the lead Australian author on a report commissioned by the US-based Water Research Foundation, which was established to help better deliver and meet regulatory standards.

The results of the study identify various water quality impacts resulting from extreme weather. These include aesthetic impacts on colour, taste and odour, the presence of microbial and chemical pollutants, and disruptions to normal water treatment processes resulting from damaged infrastructure.

To collect data, the researchers undertook detailed retrospective case studies of experienced during the past decade. These included surveying staff from 41 water utilities in Australia and the US, including major urban utilities in New York City, Houston, Sydney and Melbourne.

"Interestingly, the water quality impacts were observed to be much worse following a combination of extreme in close proximity, rather than after a very extreme but isolated event," says Khan.

"As we see these events happening more frequently, it's likely the impacts will become more severe."

Khan says while Australian water utilities are "reasonably well prepared to respond to extreme weather events" thanks to an industry-wide focus on risk assessment and risk management, the vulnerability of our water systems requires urgent action.

"We need to focus on building resilience into our future supplies," he says. "This means designing systems that are more protected from the impacts of climate change and that have greater flexibility to respond to extreme weather events. This could be partially brought about through a diversification of sources."

A follow-up project is now underway, focusing on how Australia may be able to include adaptation measures and event resilience into future revisions of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Explore further: Get used to heat waves: Extreme El Nino events to double

More information: Read the report "Water Quality Impacts Of Extreme Weather-Related Events", here: www.waterrf.org/Pages/Projects.aspx?PID=4324

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Drinking water: lessons from a decade of extreme weather

Sep 07, 2012

(Phys.org)—While extreme weather events will inevitably impact water quality, the biggest risk to public health is not the intensity of these events but their increasingly close proximity to one another, ...

Recycled drinking water must be considered, report says

Oct 16, 2013

Returning highly treated wastewater directly into our drinking water supply could have considerable economic and environmental benefits, a new report from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences ...

Australian climate on 'steroids' after hottest summer

Mar 04, 2013

Australia's weather went "on steroids" over a summer that saw an unprecedented heatwave, bushfires and floods, the climate chief said Monday, warning that global warming would only make things worse.

Recommended for you

US northeast braces for flooding after record snow

5 hours ago

Weather forecasters and emergency officials warned Sunday that melting snow would lead to heavy flooding in parts of the US northeast, with hundreds of thousands of people told to brace for fast-rising waters.

3Qs: Game theory and global climate talks

Nov 21, 2014

Last week, China and the United States announced an ambitious climate agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions in both countries, a pledge that marks the first time that China has agreed to stop its growing emissions. ...

From hurricanes to drought, LatAm's volatile climate

Nov 21, 2014

Sixteen years ago, Teodoro Acuna Zavala lost nearly everything when Hurricane Mitch ravaged his fields, pouring 10 days of torrential rains on Central America and killing more than 9,000 people.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.