[Marxism] As Water Runs Low, Can Life in the Outback Go On?
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
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
“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
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.
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
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.
More information about the Marxism