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Australian capitals could face ‘Day Zero’

BRISBANE is the most vulnerable mainland state capital if Australia was to face a long drought, and catastrophic water shortages similar to those of Cape Town’s looming ‘Day Zero’ could be experienced in major Australian cities, according to a report released today.

With desalination plants already installed and in use, Perth and Adelaide are the best equipped to withstand water shortages, followed by Melbourne and Sydney, and then Brisbane. Without desalination plants, Darwin, Hobart and Canberra would run dry in the face of major drought, with the inland location of the national capital posing obstacles for capacity and supply.

The data, obtained exclusively by News Corp from the Cross Dependency Initiative, also shows that only Perth and Adelaide would be able to offer adequate levels of water, while Sydney and Brisbane would only be able to offer enough water to meet basic consumption and hygiene needs for residents.

Rohan Hamden, the Cross Dependency Initiative’s climate change adaptation specialist, said that even with the best case scenarios offered for Perth and Adelaide, there would only be enough water for household demand, while industry and agriculture would not be supplied.

The desalination plants in operation around the country were built in response to the severe water shortages experienced during the Millennium drought, and Hamden said they have mostly proved to be a valuable investment.

“Water supply was pretty strained, and Australia reacted appropriately. Cities put in desal plants to drought proof their supplies. Sydney have never turned theirs on, but they’re the outlier; everyone else has been running theirs,” he said.

While Sydney’s desal plant remains controversially unused, currently Perth is Australia’s city most reliant on its desalination plants, with the two in operation capable of supplying almost half of its fresh water.

Adelaide and Melbourne’s plants have both supplied fresh water to residents, while Brisbane’s desalination plant is located on the Gold Coast and is able to supply to the Gold Coast, Logan and Brisbane. It has produced drinking water for residents several times since 2009, and is currently on permanent standby.

The data from the report is modelled on each city’s water recycling capabilities, alongside desalination, as the only water resources in the event of extremely low rainfall.

The report estimates that in the event of an exceptional drought, and with both desalination and water recycling in use, Perth could supply its residents with 397 litres of water per day, Adelaide 342 and Melbourne 209. In Sydney residents would be reduced to a supply of 99 litres per person per day, and Brisbane just 85. Canberra, Darwin and Hobart would have zero capacity.

Hamden cited the drought that started in Australia in the year 1174 and continued for 39 years as evidence of historical weather patterns we should be concerned about.

“Australia has had longer droughts than we have experienced as western civilisation in this country. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they will just happen again, and you can’t say we shouldn’t prepare for that,” he said.

Hamden also said the effects of climate change and increasingly common extreme weather events like cyclones, storms and floods pose a serious threat to water supply and other infrastructure across the country.

Hamden said Australia’s essential services were increasingly interdependent and if one is knocked out, it will affect others.

“If infrastructure and design standards don’t get ahead of climate change, extreme weather ‘Day Zeroes’ are likely to increase so ordinary Australians are likely to find themselves without essential services like power and water for days or even weeks at a time,” Hamden said.

Hamden said that while governments have mostly been proactive in shoring up water reserves, they need to take a holistic approach to infrastructure to further mitigate threats to water supply.

The Cross Dependency Initiative’s report offered NSW Government as an example, where all of Sydney’s critical infrastructure providers are currently working together and co-investing in solutions to potential risks, but recommends the approach be followed nationally.

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