One of the major challenges facing Australia today comes in form of managing its water supply in the face of rising water demand, an increasingly drying climate brought about by global warming and subsequent industrial pollution, which has affected overall water quality in locations such as Lithgow.
Sustainable resource management in this particular case comes in the form of ensuring that the water supply continues to meet demand in the foreseeable future (Levy & Sidel, 2011: 1). It is due to this that the Australian government has started the “Water for the Future” initiative whose four main priorities consist of:
- Securing sufficient water supplies
- Ensuring the health of rivers that feed into several of Australia’s cities
- Instituting programs aimed at using water wisely
- Taking some form of action/stance on global climate change.
Overall it is anticipated that by instituting measures which address these four main priorities it is expected that a sufficient level of sustainable water management can be developed. Taking this into consideration the case example to be utilized in this particular paper is that of Lithgow, New South Wales and the impact sustainable water resource management has had on the area, if any.
The reason why Lithgow presents itself as an interesting case example to be examined is due to the fact that a large percentage of Sydney’s water supply originates from the Cox River, which goes through Lithgow.
Any adverse sustainable resource management practices being implemented in this area have the potential to impact millions of people in one of Australia’s most popular and largest cities (Chiew, Young, Cai & Teng, 2011: 601 – 604).
This is interesting to note due to the fact that Lithgow has one of the highest cancer and heart attack rates within Australia with estimates placing the rate of cancer and heart attacks within the area at 20% higher than anywhere else within the country.
An examination of the local area reveals two distinct problems which seemingly interconnect with the detrimental health effects in the area: the presence of a massive coal mining operation located near Lithgow and the coal-powered power plants that feed off the production of the local mines.
The spill off from water used in the coal mining operations as well as the production of electricity from the nearby power plant are often allowed to run back into local water systems which not only affect the local wildlife but are also thought of as the primary cause of the health problems affecting the citizens of Lithgow (Guerin, 2006: 11 – 16).
The cause of the problem is the fact that not only does this runoff contain coal particulates it also contains several other elements such as chemicals used in the production of electricity by the power plant such as base metals as well as an assortment of dust and minerals that are byproducts of mining.
While it may be true that based on local testing the presence of base metals and other substances have been reduced to parts per million or parts per billion due to water treatment facilities the fact remains that few studies have actually confirmed whether long term ingestion of such substances will be negligible or will actually have detrimental effects on an individuals health.
This is an important factor consider in regard to sustainable resource management since no matter what form of water conservation legislation or stance on global climate change the fact remains that so long as pollutants are allowed to enter into a resource supply that is utilized by people there is the very real chance that what will occur is an adverse effect on the local populace (Hargreaves, 2008: 26 – 27).
Taking this into consideration this paper will examine the current situation in Lithgow, the extent of sustainable resource management practices currently being implemented in the area and will evaluate whether current practices will have an effect on the foreseeable future.
It is expected that the results of this study will reveal several key elements that the government must address in order to create an effective plan to ensure sustainable water supplies that are pollution-free in the future for both Lithgow and Sydney.
Review of Related Literature
Current estimates of the electrical use per household within Sydney shows that on average a home/apartment in Sydney spends roughly $1,500 per year on electricity consumption with an average daily use of 17 to 31 kWhs (Kilowatt-hours) per day or 8250 kWh per annum (All charged up, 2008: 90).
This results in the production of 8 tones of carbon pollution per household created each year due to the fact that 90% of Australia’s energy needs are met through the use of fossil fuel-burning power plants. With a population density of 4,575,532 this represents literally billions of tons of carbon pollution released into the atmosphere on a yearly basis.
The reason this is particularly important to mention is due to the fact that Sydney is just one out of several cities that rely on fossil fuel power plants as their main source of energy (Australia: Market profile, 2004: 22). Many of these power plants are located near rivers, lakes and estuaries due to the necessity of large bodies of water for their steam cycles and cooling processes
(King & Lilja, 2011: 153 – 156). What happens as a direct result of this is an increase in the number of particulates in the water consisting of either iron, copper, magnesium, sodium, sulfates, nitrates and a variety of other inorganic materials that can be found dissolved in water as a direct result of industrial processes (King & Lilja, 2011: 153 – 156).
The inherent problem with having such particulates in the water even in the parts per million or parts per billion levels is that it may have unknown long term effects on the resident population within a particular area.
The city of Lithgow, for example, which is located roughly 150 kilometers west of Sydney is near the Wallerawang power plant owned by Delta electricity, which has been observed as continuing to release water that contains toxic metals and arsenic into the Cox River.
Studies conducted in 2008 showed that the power plant itself was the main reason behind the abrupt die-off of local aquatic life due to the high levels of base metals within the water which increased overall water conductivity, turbidity and toxicity.
Several independent studies which examined the water quality of the Cox river revealed that on average the river only contained 5 percent of the amount of oxygen fish need to survive, contained sulphate levels that were shown to be 125 times more than what was recommended and the presence of high levels of metals such as zinc, copper and manganese made it almost undrinkable.
Unfortunately, Lithgow sources a lot of its drinking water from the nearby river and as such this has the potential to create hereto unknown effects within the local populace. While regular testing by the local city council shows that the water is safe to drink after undergoing purification at local municipal water plans there are various factors that call such testing into doubt.
Based on the latest data by the Sydney West Area Health Service (SWAHS) the city of Lithgow has one of highest rates of prostate cancer, asthma and lung-related illnesses as compared to any other region within the state.
In fact based on estimates by the SWAHS, citizens of Lithgow have a 20 percent greater propensity for cancer and a 50 percent greater risk for heart attacks and as such are indicative of something seriously affecting the local population.
Various environmental groups as well as local doctors and physicians indicate that the problem is due to the area’s water supply, which has been severely affected due to the presence of the nearby power plant and mines.
Of further concern is the fact that this is situation is not isolated to Lithgow alone, with 90% of Australia’s power supply originating from fossil fuel resources this is indicative of the fact that other towns and cities that source water from rivers from nearby power plants can also be similarly affected.
One factor to consider when taking such figures into consideration is the fact that Sydney’s population is estimated to grow to at least 6 million by 2035 resulting in an even greater strain on the city’s resource infrastructure (Rutherfurd & Finlayson, 2011: 301 – 312) (Tandukar, 2006: 38). The impact of this estimate on the sustainable management of water resources results in two distinct priorities that need to be addressed:
- The ability to continue to supply water resources to a growing population of millions
- Ensuring that the water supply continues to remain drinkable and non-toxic to the population.
The inherent problem with fulfilling the second priority is the fact that the due to rising energy needs within Sydney the plan of the Australian government has been to create more fossil fuel burning power plants due to their relatively inexpensive cost.
Such policies have resulted in plans to build several more fossil fuel burning power plants near the Lithgow area due to its proximity to coal deposits thereby reducing the overall cost of production. Unfortunately, such a plan has the effect of increasing the amount of base metals into the water which would definitely affect the overall sustainability of the Cox River as a sustainable source of drinkable water for Sydney.
On the other hand it must be noted that the local Lithgow city council has deemed the water “safe” to consumer despite the detrimental health effects to the citizens within the immediate area showing the exact opposite of their claims.
While it may be true that Sydney is relatively far away enough from Lithgow (150 miles) for some of the base metals within the water to dilute themselves to parts per trillion the fact remains that if more power plants are to be built in the Lithgow area as they are planned to this would increase the amount of base metals within Sydney’s water supply thus facilitating the same health risks within Sydney as those seen within Lithgow (Guerin, 2006: 11 – 16).
It is due to this that it is now necessary to examine the present methods of sustainable resource management within the Lithgow area in order to determine whether they will be able to cope with the future changes that will occur within the area.
Data and Methods
The following is a comparative analysis between current methods of sustainable resource management implementation and a factual analysis of collected data examining the state of water sources within the Lithgow area.
The purpose of examination is to compare the results of sustainable water management with the current level of pollutants within the waters that feed into Lithgow’s and Sydney’s water supply in order to determine the effectiveness of such management policies.
Sustainable Resource Management Plans within Lithgow: Effective or Useless?
The inherent problem with any sustainable resource management plan that aims to protect the water resources of the Lithgow area is that it has to deal with the energy needs of Sydney, which is one of the primary reasons behind problems within the area.
While it may be true that governments have the responsibility in ensuring the continued safety and health of their populace the fact remains that in case of the ever-increasing power demands of Sydney it is apparent that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and in this case the apparent effect of mining and building power plants within the local area takes precedence over the health and well-being of citizens within Lithgow.
How else can it be explained that despite the flagrant environmental abuses by both the mining and power plant companies that their activities have continued to remain in operation.
The fact is that the government can ill-afford any interruptions to Sydney’s voracious appetite for power, stopping operations at power plants and mines that have exhibited flagrant abuses of the environmental code would cause a potential power crises within Sydney affecting the city’s economy which would definitely be detrimental for government.
Taking this particular factor into consideration an examination of current policies aimed at reducing pollutants originating from the local mines and power plants has revealed the Lithgow – Clarence Colliery water transfer project which through the use of a $4 million endowment from the government the Clarence Water Transfer System will be upgraded allowing local residents from Lithgow to source more of their water from the Clarence Colliery instead of the Oberon dam.
While such a method sustainable resource management is admirable since it allows local residents to source their water from a plentiful alternative the fact remains that the data sets that will be explored within this section show why this is a bad idea.
What must be understood is that what is necessary in the case of Lithgow’s water supply is sustainable resource management strategies that resolve the issue of discharges by the various mines and power plants within the area into the local water supply.
Within New South Wales the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council (ANZECC) 2000 Guidelines manages the guidelines for water discharge while the ability to discharge water is licensed under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (Roberts, 2011: 6 – 8).
While such methods of ensuring the water supply continues to remain pollution-free and thus sustainable in the long run in terms of their ability to be consumed what this section will detail is why such methods of ensuring resource sustainability are far from stringent enough.
(Kumar,McCullough, & Lund, 2009: 205 – 211)
The following data shows the PH levels of various areas within Lithgow. What must first be understood is that a PH rate of one to six is indicative of the water being acidic with a rating of six indicating low acidity A rating of seven of is considered neutral while 8 and above is considered a base From the results it can be seen that the data from Farmer’s creek shows an increase in PH level from acidic to base, this indicative of the introduction of base particles such as metal particulates into the water.
In fact as it can be seen in most of the results aside from the Ben Bullen state forest and Sunny Corner all of the results show PH levels indicative of bases present in the water. This means that the waters in those particular locations contain high levels of metal particulates, which is further backed up by the readings taken based on their level of conductivity.
(Kumar,McCullough, & Lund, 2009: 205 – 211)
What must first be understood is the fact that conductivity is the measure by which water is able to pass an electrical current.
While it may be true that water is able to pass electricity rather easily the fact remains that its overall ability to do so increases based on the amount and type of inorganic dissolved solids (particulates) that have been mixed in. These particulates can come in form of iron, copper, magnesium, sodium, sulfates, nitrates and a variety of other inorganic materials that can be found dissolved in water as a direct result of industrial processes.
The greater the amount of discharges into a stream from such processes the greater the likelihood of the water having a higher degree of conductivity. For example, Lake Lyell has an average range of 500 µhos/cm, the Colliery shows 577 µhos/cm and Sunny corner at 438 µhos/cm.
Such results, while high, can still support aquatic life yet their sheer levels is indicative of a high degree of particulates being introduced into the water which may be incredibly poisonous for local marine life (Kumar, McCullough, & Lund, 2009: 205 – 211).
As mentioned earlier one of the main causes speculated as the reason behind the negative health conditions of the citizens of Lithgow is connected to the long term of consumption of base metals in parts per million or billion within water supplies.
As the evidence from the data shows there is a relatively high degree of base metals still present within the waters surrounding Lithgow and is indicative of a failure of sustainable resource management since the surrounding waters can be considered a health hazard over long term consumption.
Analysis, Results and Discussion
Overall based on a comparative analysis of the given data presented it can be seen that the methods of sustainable resource management implemented over Lithgow’s water supply are from adequate based on the results showed.
While it may be true that based on government standards of water safety that the base metal content in the water is safe for consumption the fact still remains that the residents of Lithgow have severe health problems and most experts point out that the cause can be traced to the water discharge from the local power plant and coal mines.
While at the present the base metal levels begin to dilute as they enter into Sydney’s water supply and undergo treatment at the local plants the fact remains that with future plans indicating that even more power plants are going to built near Lithgow this means that the base metal per million or billion may increase resulting in possibly negative repercussions within Sydney’s population.
It is based on this that it can be seen that in terms of sustainable resource management, while the Australian government has ensured that water continues to be supplied the fact remains that the overall condition of the water leaves much to be desired especially when taking into future plans for the NSW region.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Based on the findings of this paper it can be seen that the level of sustainable resource management within the Lithgow area is a direct result of the activities of the power plants and mining sites within the local area. Despite the source being obvious an effective resolution is not quite possible due to their connection to the power necessities of Sydney.
It is based on this that it is recommended that greater government intervention in the case of Lithgow be implemented in the form of either stricter penalties or the threat of possible closure of either a power plant or a mine for failing to live up to proper environmental standards of operation.
If such initiatives were to be implemented better sustainable resource management practices can also be utilized to ensure that not only does Sydney’s water supply continue to flow in abundance but will be safe to drink in the foreseeable future.
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