Processing Magazine

Study highlights how extreme weather events threaten drinking water quality

January 23, 2014

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Utilities must take action to ensure they have the necessary flexibility when extreme weather threatens drinking water quality, according to a joint study by Australian and U.S. researchers.

The project covered 41 water suppliers in the two countries and included Sydney Water and Melbourne Water, Australia's largest water utilities, The Age reported.

According to the report, the biggest threat is posed by a combination of extreme weather events rather than a single occurrence. Lead author Stuart Khan, associate professor at the NSW University's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, gave as an example of such combination a drought followed by bushfires and a flood. The more of these events occurring together in close succession, the greater the impact on drinking water quality, Khan said.

Since extreme weather events are only expected to become more frequent, it is really important for utilities to be prepared, Khan went on to add. One way of achieving that is through investment in desalination plants. Although this is a very costly undertaking, Australian cities will most likely need more such plants to be able to ensure water quality when extreme events threaten capacity.

The research team has now turned its attention to examining community tolerance when extreme weather puts water quality at risk. One scenario involves the potential need to increase chlorine on a short-term basis so that lethal pathogens are prevented from entering water supplies, Khan said.