Archive for February 24, 2020

Solving water security: don’t ignore the public

What is the best solution to the problem of water security in Australia? Finding an answer to this question is no easy matter. There is still much we don’t know about the nature and impact of climate change on freshwater resources in Australia, and public opinion is divided about how best to tackle a problem that is not yet well understood. Ensuring ongoing water security is not simply a technical and environmental matter, but an inherently social one as well.

CSIRO’s State of the Climate Report 2012 suggests more frequent droughts in much of southern Australia. At the same time, wet periods may become more intense in some years. One thing is clear: climate patterns in Australia are changing and water resources planning must adapt accordingly.

All possible initiatives to ensure water sustainability have social ramifications and costs that need to be considered. This is true regardless of whether the option is water restrictions, rainwater tanks, dam expansion, water recycling, or desalination. Read more

Water stays in the pipes longer in shrinking cities – a challenge for public health

The geographic locations where Americans live are shifting in ways that can negatively affect the quality of their drinking water.

Cities that experience long-term, persistent population decline are called shrinking cities. Although shrinking cities exist across the U.S., they are concentrated in the American Rust Belt and Northeast. Urban shrinkage can be bad for drinking water in two ways: through aging infrastructure and reduced water demand. Read more

Climate change is driving rapid shifts between high and low water levels on the Great Lakes

The North American Great Lakes contain about one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. In May, new high water level records were set on Lakes Erie and Superior, and there has been widespread flooding across Lake Ontario for the second time in three years. These events coincide with persistent precipitation and severe flooding across much of central North America.

As recently as 2013, water levels on most of the Great Lakes were very low. At that time some experts proposed that climate change, along with other human actions such as channel dredging and water diversions, would cause water levels to continue to decline. This scenario spurred serious concern. Over 30 million people live within the Great Lakes basin, and many depend directly on the lakes for drinking water, industrial use, commercial shipping and recreation. Read more

Diving into cold water can be deadly – here’s how to survive it

Many will have read the news story about the sad death of Cameron Gosling who died from cold water shock after jumping into the River Wear on a hot summer’s day. Sadly, Cameron’s death is not an isolated case. About 400 people die annually in the UK as a result of being immersed in cold water – more than die from cycling accidents or fire. Most of the casualties are males under 30 years of age, and most are reported to be good swimmers.

In the 1980s, Frank Golden and I coined the term “cold shock” for the initial physiological responses evoked by being immersed in cold water. At the time, most scientists, the media and the general public thought that hypothermia (low deep body temperature) was the cause of death, a misconception that started with the Titanic disaster. But hypothermia takes at least 30 minutes before it is fatal so couldn’t explain the rapid incapacitation seen in those who die from cold water shock in minutes. Read more

We use satellites to measure water scarcity

Today, more than 700 million people around the world drink water from unsafe or untreated sources, such as wells, springs and surface water.

About half of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, in more than 30 African countries, fewer than 20% of the people have access to safe drinking water.

Climate change is likely to worsen the situation by making water less available in some locations and by changing the amounts and timing when water is available. Read more