Drought, climate data and smart water management

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As NSW contends with worsening drought conditions, key stakeholders across the state are calling for a new approach to water resource management that explores innovative solutions to this critical challenge. In an article published on the University of Sydney’s website, experts weigh up the options and examine current policy proposals.

Dr Petr Matous is an academic from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering who specialises in environmental and humanitarian engineering. While he believes governments should invest in recycled water infrastructure, water usage is high in Sydney compared to other parts of the country.

“The latest rains in Sydney didn’t change much except increase the levels of water-borne bacteria along our beaches from surface run off. We had a few days of rain but we are still in a drought," said Dr Matous.

“The water level of Warragamba Dam, the dam that supplies most of Sydney's water, is still only at 50 percent just like it was a week or so ago. During those few days of rain, four centimetres fell in its catchment area and all of it was consumed.”

“To ensure sufficient water supply for a growing population, the creation of recycled water infrastructure would be a step in the right direction. However, to buttress us through further droughts in an increasingly variable climate, significant awareness raising and especially work on pricing is needed.”

“Sydney has great storage capacity but even with desalination plants running, water levels are decreasing because there hasn't been enough rain and because we use too much water in Sydney; 30 percent more, per person, than in Melbourne.”

“Most of us in Sydney don’t even know how much water we use, unlike people in other cities whose water bills depend on their actual consumption, or people in remote areas who live off their rainwater tanks, a technology that should be rolled out in urban areas.”

Dr Floris Van Ogtrop is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Life and Environmental Science. His research focuses on identifying links between water quality and human, animal and plant health. Thanks to scientific advancements, he says it has become easier to predict and understand the impacts of drought. 

“Can we prepare for drought? Unlike cyclones or bush fires, drought creeps up on us," said Dr Van Ogtrop.

“Drought effects are complex, causing; financial hardship, emotional issues, famine, and long-term impacts on ecosystems.”

“With improved availability of climate data, climate models, and landscape and socioeconomic data, we are getting better at understanding the behaviour of drought.”

“This will lead to better forecasts and also developing thresholds that can trigger drought support in a more timely manner, as well as encouraging the development of multi-risk insurance policies for farmers that include drought.”

The NSSN will bring together the state's leading scientists with key stakeholders from across the broad spectrum of NSW water management, in a workshop event on 2 October 2019, to share information, devise collaborative solutions and build active partnerships in two key areas of smart sensing and data in the context of smart water management. 

The workshop will be opened by the Hon. Melinda Pavey MP, Minister for Water, Property & Housing and Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer. 

To read the full commentary story on drought refer to the original article published by the University of Sydney here

Shahrzad Abbasi