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Are the recent bushfires impacting the water supply?

New South Wales is dealing with quite the situation as more than 400 homes were destroyed due to bushfires recently. In Queensland there are still more than 70 active fires, so the situation is very problematic. Even the Western Australian communities are alerted because the forecast states regions like Ashburton Inland, East Pilbara inland, west Pilbara coast and east Pilbara coast are bound to be affected very quickly. The most important aspect to notice here is that there’s a huge challenge such as property damage and even loss of life.

But aside from those severe consequences, there’s another problem. Waster catchments are also affected by the bushfires, and that will bring in a set of major issues a massive impact on the water delivery and supply too, which is super problematic. There can be both short and long term concerns related to this, and it’s important to understand the challenges that arise from an issue of this magnitude.

We can’t see the impact right now, but we will see it in the next few months. The main issue is related to the inability to pump and treat water in the affected areas. This happened in NSW Northern Rivers city of Grafton where the dam’s power supply got interrupted. That didn’t feel like a major issue at first, but it did become one later on since the dam offers water to the Coffs Harbour and Clarence Valley regions.

This is one of the many challenges that can arise from bushfires. Even if they don’t seem hugely problematic at first, the issue is there and it will become even more prevalent as time goes by. So you really have to figure out how to tackle this at the highest possible levels, and the results are bound to be extraordinary if the government and authorities manage this.

Thanks to the Regional Water Supply Scheme, the affected regions make it easy to bring in bulk water transfers between cities, so the water restrictions get removed in just 6 days after the issue, which is a very interesting thing to think about here. The councils created a dedicated water sharing system that’s very flexible. So even if issues arise, they at least have some sort of failsafe in there just to be safe, as it can be very problematic.

Even the Queensland TRC is feeling the bushfires impact on the water infrastructure. They urged residents to limit the water consumption as the fire affected powerlines that were connected to the dam pump station in Cressbrook. That means water can’t be pumped at all in the region. What this means is that we have to diversify the water sources, as this strategy limits the impact. If you rely only on water from the dam, then obviously there will be issues and concerns to deal with, and you have to tackle all of that correctly and at the highest possible levels.

There are also long term catchment concerns here. The heavy rainfall might seem like a blessing, but it also makes water treatment difficult especially in regions affected by the bushfire. Due to the summer conditions, you can end up with Algal blooms and that leads to odor problems and taste changes. The problem is that you don’t really have a huge way to prevent biomass from ending up in catchments, yet the authorities seem to have a plan on how to eventually get rid of that in case it would eventually happen.

Water Research Australia shows that the plan is in place and even if there are extreme weather events, issues will be solved very nicely. Even in this situation there are some mitigation strategies in place that will smooth the communication between health authorities, water utilities and all the necessary organization. It’s expected to have a very fast reply to a situation like this, and the approach is extremely impressive and rewarding at the same time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that these extreme events are going to occur more and more often, which means that the Australian water sector needs to be prepared for them.

Thankfully, the water industry in Australia understands these challenges and they are working very hard to prepare for this type of events. Granted, some of them can still be rather unexpected, but having the right preparation in this case helps a lot. Many problems arose from bushfires, so having a proper water plan is crucial and extremely important at this time!



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