[Marxism] As Water Runs Low, Can Life in the Outback Go On?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 9 07:50:16 MST 2019


NY Times, Dec. 9, 2019
As Water Runs Low, Can Life in the Outback Go On?
By Livia Albeck-Ripka

EUCHAREENA, Australia — Fleur Magick Dennis has stopped showering every 
day, allowed her vegetable patch to die and told her four sons to let 
the dishes pile up. Sometimes, all her family has is bottled water, and 
they have to preserve every drop.

A year and a half ago, the reservoir in their town, Euchareena, went 
dry, leaving the family and some other residents without running water.

“I didn’t think I’d be in this position, trying to fight for water for 
basic human needs in Australia,” Ms. Magick Dennis said.

As a crippling drought and mismanagement have left more than a dozen 
Australian towns and villages without a reliable source of water, the 
country is beginning to confront a question that strikes at its very 
identity: Is life in Australia’s vast interior compatible with the age 
of climate change?

In the outback — a landscape central to Australian lore, far removed in 
distance and spirit from the coastal metropolises — rivers and lakes are 
disappearing, amplifying fears that wide swaths of rural territory may 
eventually have to be abandoned.

Euchareena and Australian towns like it are far from alone. A quarter of 
humanity lives in countries that are using almost all the water they 
have, according to data published by the World Resources Institute in 
August. Shortages have plagued places from California to Cape Town, 
South Africa, which narrowly escaped running out of water last year.

But Australia, the most arid inhabited continent, is unique among 
developed nations in its vulnerability to the effects of climate change, 
scientists say. With the country’s driest spring on record just 
concluded and another hot, parched summer likely to be ahead, the 
challenge of keeping Australia hydrated is only becoming more urgent.

“People think about climate change as this very faraway prospect, but in 
fact, it’s here now,” said Joelle Gergis, a senior lecturer in climate 
science at the Australian National University in Canberra and an author 
for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We’re starting to glimpse what the future is going to be like,” Dr. 
Gergis added. “It’s possible that parts of Australia will become 
uninhabitable.”

Australia’s cities — which rely on expansive dams and, increasingly, 
plants that transform seawater into drinking water — may be able to 
sustain themselves even in the driest conditions, policy experts say.

However, “as soon as you go inland and you don’t have the ocean, we’re 
not going to be fine, and I don’t think anyone knows what the solution 
is,” said Ian Wright, a senior lecturer in environmental science at 
Western Sydney University, who worked with Sydney’s water utility for 
more than a decade.

“It is so dire right now; I’d say it’s an absolute crisis,” Dr. Wright 
added. “It’s beyond desperate.”

Farming families and Indigenous communities, which in their different 
ways have carefully managed the land’s scarce resources, may have to 
relocate. Australia’s tourism industry, which has always heavily 
promoted the outback as a destination, could also suffer.

And with fire season off to a ferocious start, towns like Euchareena 
live in fear that they might not be able to stop any blazes that ignite.

We’re a “tinderbox waiting to go up,” Ms. Magick Dennis, 40, said as she 
waited on her porch for a water truck to reach the village, a dusty 
strip of homes in a region of fewer than 200 residents a four-hour drive 
from Sydney. Atop a hill sits a 20,000-gallon tank, the only resource 
residents have to fight a fire.

Ms. Magick Dennis and her children used to enjoy swimming at the village 
dam in the summer. Now, though, the creek bed is littered with dead 
reeds and mussel shells; the surrounding eucalyptus trees are exposed at 
the roots.

“It’s beyond going, ‘Oh, it’s going to rain soon and it will get 
better,’” said Ms. Magick Dennis, who has considered moving. “The 
ecosystem is really damaged.”

In rural Australia, that damage often results from a complex interplay 
of mismanagement, drought and climate change.

The conservative Australian government has approved water-intensive 
mining projects and made contentious deals with agribusiness — 
agreements that are often blamed for the degradation of the country’s 
waterways, which sustain dozens of communities and hundreds of native 
plant and animal species.

A lack of investment has also put the country behind nations like the 
United States and China in its ability to model future climate and water 
scenarios, said Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Center of 
Excellence for Climate Extremes in Sydney.

At the same time, Australia’s dry and variable climate is becoming even 
drier and more unpredictable. Parts of the country are experiencing less 
rain, and the floods that usually fill rivers, lakes and dams are 
decreasing, scientists say.

Antique farming relics, once submerged under water, at the Burrendong 
Dam reservoir in New South Wales, the state hit hardest by a drought 
that began in 2017.Credit...Adam Ferguson for The New York Times
This is happening as the country’s growing population puts increasing 
demands on its water. “That’s not a very good set of circumstances to 
find yourself in,” Professor Pitman said.

Across New South Wales, the state where the drought that began in 2017 
has hit hardest, plots of abandoned, parched land stretch for miles. The 
occasional green pasture is a sign of a farmer battling the elements, 
and probably wealthy enough to irrigate.

“If the drought went on for another four years, that would be Armageddon 
for Australia,” said James Hamilton, who farms land about 270 miles 
inland from Sydney. He, like many others, has not planted any crops this 
year and plans to sell off his remaining livestock.

The reservoir on Mr. Hamilton’s 6,000-acre property is empty, and the 
land where knee-high wheat should be flourishing this time of year is 
desiccated.

Farmers are used to harsh conditions, but Mr. Hamilton worries that 
businesses in small towns are less likely to bounce back from the 
drought, given the cascading economic effects. “Nothing is sustainable 
without water,” he said.

The largest nearby town, Dubbo, which has a population of about 40,000, 
relies on water from the Macquarie River, which could stop flowing by 
May, according to the local council. The Burrendong Dam reservoir, which 
feeds the river, is currently at about 3 percent of its capacity.

Already, the town — where temperatures can reach 115 degrees in the 
summer — has stopped watering some public spaces, and each resident is 
restricted to 280 liters of water per day, about 74 gallons. (Residents 
pushed back against tighter limits that included turning off evaporate 
air-conditioning between midnight and 7 a.m.)

The local zoo, one of the largest in Australia, is recycling water and 
has replaced some garden beds with synthetic turf. The fire station is 
exploring alternative means to smother blazes, like sand and foam.

If the river runs dry, Dubbo would have to rely on its wells, which 
currently supply just a portion of its water. (Ms. Magick Dennis is 
petitioning to have one dug as a backup for Euchareena.)

But in some parts of Australia, low-quality groundwater has caused problems.

In towns north of Dubbo, residents have reported foul-smelling, 
metallic-tasting water, as well as medical problems like high blood 
pressure and skin conditions. Some said they had received no warning 
that the water might be unsafe to drink.

“At the worst, it tastes like you bit your cheek and it was bleeding,” 
said Fleur Thompson, a resident of Bourke, a town in the state’s northwest.

Peta MacGillivray
@peta_ivy_
Walgett is still without quality drinking #water. Another delivery made 
today, while still waiting for reverse osmosis system to be installed at 
water treatment plant (technology that is readily available in mining 
camps, but not in remote NSW 🤔) #nswpol #auspol #watercrisis 
https://twitter.com/yuwaalaraay/status/1195563523310383104 …

In Australia’s cities, the picture is somewhat less bleak, but even 
there, water supplies are running short. The reservoir at Sydney’s dam 
is less than half full, and the city has employed “water officers” to 
educate citizens and enforce restrictions.

The government of Victoria has ruled out building more dams to serve 
rural areas and the city of Melbourne, because river flow in that state 
is expected to drop by half by 2065.

Possible solutions include recycling water and relying on desalination 
plants, which are often criticized for their high energy use and the 
potential environmental harm of ejecting brine back into the ocean. 
These methods are crucial, though, if Australia is to remain livable 
under dire climate change scenarios, policy experts say.

“We can’t let ourselves off the hook; no matter what the impact of 
climate change, we need to plan,” said Stuart White, the director of the 
Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney.

In early November, rain finally fell across parts of New South Wales, 
providing some relief and hope as people reveled in the puddles. But the 
drought is far from over, and the question of whether Australia will 
learn and adapt will linger on.




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