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Australia Sydney's water supply faces contamination if heavy rainfall arrives

14:15  13 december  2019
14:15  13 december  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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The 1998 Sydney water crisis involved the suspected contamination by the microscopic pathogens cryptosporidium and giardia of the water supply system of Greater Metropolitan Sydney , between July and September 1998.

Between July and September 1998 the Sydney water crisis involved the contamination of Sydney ’ s main water supply , the Warragamba Dam, by the This was attributed to moderate rainfall in July, followed by heavy rainfall in August and September (after decreasing storage levels since mid-July

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Ongoing bushfires have incinerated most of the forests in Sydney's main catchment, leaving water reserves exposed to significant contamination in the event of a major downpour.

The Green Wattle Creek fire has burnt about 120,000 hectares around Lake Burragorang, which supplies about 80 per cent of the city's water behind Warragamba Dam. The blaze has a perimeter of 560 kilometres, the Rural Fire Service said.

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Every year when there is heavy rainfall ,there is turbidity in the water . It does not mean the water is contaminated . As it rained heavily in June,the unfit samples rose from 12 per cent in May “ Water contamination is mainly caused by leakages and the problem has worsened because of house gallis.

The Most Common Types of Water Contamination . Contaminants such as chemicals, nutrients, and heavy metals are carried from farms, factories By relying on plants, soil, and natural systems to manage rainfall runoff, green infrastructure tackles urban water woes and boosts climate resilience.

a tree with a mountain in the background: Water levels at Warragamba Dam have fluctuated greatly over the years with occaisional bushfires too, as seen in this Google Earth time lapse since 1984. © Google Earth Water levels at Warragamba Dam have fluctuated greatly over the years with occaisional bushfires too, as seen in this Google Earth time lapse since 1984.

The resulting bushfire ash contains organic material and concentrated nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. While the ash acts like a sponge, if sufficient rain falls in a short time that material could be pushed into the dam, triggering a range of water treatment challenges.

a body of water with a mountain in the background: Lake Burragorang, behind Warragamba Dam, before the fires. © Jonathan Ng Lake Burragorang, behind Warragamba Dam, before the fires.

"The worst case scenario would be a very intense rainfall event - 50-60 or maybe 100mm – falling within a few hours," said Stefan Doerr, a researcher at UK's Swansea University, who has studied fires in Sydney's catchments.

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Earlier, Sydney Water blamed heavy rain in recent days for putting"enormous pressure on the Macarthur Filtration Plant, with high levels of debris and turbulence in the catchment' s water ". Bernie Sheridan, Sydney Water ' s treatment manager, said a succession of storms in recent days had

Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies, usually as a result of human activities. Water bodies include for example lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers and groundwater.

"It really depends now on when it rains and how it rains," he said. "This is the key for contamination."

While there is little sign of the drought breaking, storms can create isolated deluges as seen this week when Brisbane copped 100mm in an hour. Thunderstorms are also common over Warragamba this time of year.

a group of people standing around a fire truck: RFS crews watch from High Range ond December 1 as the Green Wattle Creek fire began its surge towards Lake Burragorang, Sydney's main reservoir behind Warragamba dam © Wolter Peeters RFS crews watch from High Range ond December 1 as the Green Wattle Creek fire began its surge towards Lake Burragorang, Sydney's main reservoir behind Warragamba dam Contamination risks range from mild discolouration and turbidity if organic material gets washed in, to the sudden growth of algae and cyanobacteria - or blue-green algae - triggered by phosphorus or other nutrients.

"A major bloom could persist for many months such as in 2007, which lasted at least six months," Stuart Khan, a University of NSW professor, said. "A warm summer will likely exacerbate the risk."

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"Microbial water quality [at Foreshores Beach] is highly influenced by faecal pollution, particularly after rainfall , and is very susceptible to faecal contamination from the sewage overflows which discharge into Mill Pond Unusually heavy rain is blamed for worsening water quality at some Sydney beaches.

Contaminated drinking water is usually not a source of concern if you live in a developed country. Unfortunately they were dealing with these contamination issues for over a year after an ash spill, leading to disproportionate cases of brain cancer and tumors in the surrounding area.

The potential health consequences of contamination, should it occur, also vary greatly. A change in colour or odour - in part because of the minerals authorities would use to treat the water - could prompt customer complaints but little or no health impact, Professor Khan said.

Of greater worry would be if the species of any algal outbreak turned out to contain toxins. The 2007 bloom was non-toxic but others may not be so benign, Brett Neilan, a molecular biologist at Newcastle University said.

"Some blue-green algae can contain liver toxins at certain times of the year, or neuro-toxins that can lead to paralysis," Professor Neilan said, adding "we also have the world's worst algae".

Water Minister Melinda Pavey said WaterNSW were using floating containment booms and curtains "to prepare to capture and contain" any algal outbreak.

"Highly experienced water quality scientists are using sophisticated monitoring technology and models to anticipate if and where in the storage water quality may be affected [from ash inflows]," she said.

David Harris, WaterNSW's chief executive, said “protecting the quality and quantity of the source of supply for Greater Sydney’s drinking water is our core function and after two decades of doing so [the agency] is well-recognised as an expert leader in this field".

Authorities could reduce risks of ash entering the dam by spraying biodegradable glue over deposits most likely to be transported into the dam, Professor Doerr said.

Treatment of the water can remove algae - at greater cost and time - but toxins once released are much more difficult to remove, Professor Neilan said.

Professor Doerr said, longer term, climate change will likely exacerbate risks to catchments "by making the fires more intense, and the potential storms causing more contamination are also more severe".

Lithium from electronic waste can contaminate water supply .
Lithium from electronic waste can contaminate water supply(Reuters Health) - Lithium from batteries that power smartphones, tablets and electric cars may contaminate tap water, a Korean study suggests.

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