Water – a life and death commodity

In modern history, no city in the developed world has ever run out of water.

What do you do when your city is running out of water? The answer, at least in one of the world’s most unequal countries, depends on how much money you have.

Within the next few months, Cape Town’s taps will potentially run dry, the result of a protracted drought and a government failure to provide an alternative water source to this city of 4 million.

For the wealthy, that means hiring companies to dig boreholes and wells. It means buying truckloads of bottled water, even at inflated prices. It means ordering desalination machines to make groundwater drinkable – or save enough to fill a swimming pool.

For the poor, it means waiting to see what the government comes up with, and contemplating whether you can afford to cut back on food to be able to buy water.

Christian Dunaway, Tetra Tech Vice President and water expert says city planners need to think long term about their water resilience. “The impact of climate change, along with the increased needs of a growing global population, has placed extreme pressure on the water resources within our natural and built environment,” says Dunaway.

“Contrary to popular belief, water is a finite resource. The good news is that engineers and scientists are actually well placed to facilitate positive change with regulators and action when it comes to practical solutions. Our recent work on the new, integrated water system in the Badulla, Haliela, and Ella areas of Sri Lanka is a great example of this. As a result of our work, there is now safe drinking water for the first time for thousands of local residents.”

Tetra Tech’s involvement on this project includes design, construction management, project financing facilitation, and oversight for a new dam, new and upgraded water treatment plants, storage tanks, pumping stations, and transmission and distribution pipelines.

And so, today on the United Nations World Water Day we have to stop and think. What do the next 20 or 30 years look like when there will be more stories like Cape Town? Our collective inaction around climate change and failure to seriously consider the consequences – such as prolonged drought – means that the turmoil & political unrest like we are witnessing in South Africa will increase.

The issue isn’t limited to South Africa. Less than a decade ago, Melbourne was forced to enact Stage 3a water restrictions after water storage was below 30% of capacity. The investment in a desalination plant for the city’s drinking water has yet to see a return on the investment, but the capacity is comforting to the four and a half million people who live in the Greater Melbourne area.

A more dramatic example is the town of Broken Hill, in far west New South Wales. Home to about 17,000 people, most are now using bore water as their main drinking supply. This is a result of the Darling River and subsidiary lakes running dry. Lake Menindee, the primary water source for the town, can hold more than three times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour, yet it’s currently at less than 16% of capacity. This is due to a combination of factors, including drought, diversion of water, and a dramatic increase in water allocations upstream. The town was forced to dig bores to ensure that there was enough water to drink. Residents report that the bore water very rich in mineral salts and causing skin conditions (chlorine levels fall within the acceptable range at 3.4 mg/L, however this is almost seven times higher than the chlorine levels in Sydney at 0.5 mg/L).

The conversation about water is certainly not going to go away, so as we raise our awareness about this precious resource on World Water Day, let’s ask ourselves two questions;

  1. How conscious am i about the issues that affect access to clean and safe water?
  2. What can I do to open my eyes and heart, to raise my voice and use my feet, so that all might enjoy the basic human/earth right of water?

For further information please consider the following website http://worldwaterday.news24.com/

Water capabilities

For 50 years, Tetra Tech has helped provide safe, abundant water supplies; effective treatment of stormwater and wastewater; flood control and restoration tools; and innovative watershed protection approaches to assess, protect, and restore our water bodies. Because Tetra Tech is involved in all phases of the water cycle, we use a truly integrated approach to manage our waters with a combination of state-of-the-art techniques and demonstrated best practices.

Tetra Tech has been ranked number one in Water by Engineering News-Record magazine for 14 years in a row. Find out more about the Tetra Tech group water solutions at: http://www.tetratech.com/en/water-resources


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