Water supply moved amid bushfire threat

Water supply moved amid bushfire threat

17 February 2009

published by www.abc.net.au

Australia — Billions of litres of drinking water is being moved out of Victorian reservoirs with catchments which are fire damaged.

Ninety per cent of the O’Shannassy catchment and 40 per cent of the Maroondah catchment have been burned.

Authorities are shifting water out of some reservoirs, due to concerns rain could wash pollutants like ash into the storages.

Water Minister Tim Holding says it is difficult to say how the fires will affect Melbourne’s supply.

He says more than 10 billion litres of drinking water is being pumped to safer storages.

“It’s hard to say whether the fire has burnt hot and damaged the catchment extensively, or whether it’s burnt quickly, and perhaps crowned through the trees but not actually damaged the forest floor substantially,” he said.

“So we need to get in and have a look, to make a prediction about what the potential impact on that reservoir might be.”

He says the water needs to be stored in other reservoirs in the meantime.

“In the weeks and months ahead when it rains, when we’ve had a chance to assess what the damage to each of the catchments has been, it is possible that pollutants, that ash and other substances will be washed into those reservoirs and that can ultimately have an impact on water quality,” he said.

Melbourne Water’s Rob Skinner says there is still enough unaffected water to meet demand.

“There has been no threat to the amount of water, or the availability,” he said.

Authorities say water that is contaminated will not be lost, but will take a few months to regain its purity.

The State Government says the threat to Victoria’s water storages from ash and debris highlights the need for a desalination plant.

Water Minister Tim Holding says this shows changes are need to the state’s water strategy.

“We recognise now that with the ongoing threat of bushfires, with the reality of climate change in the future and with a growing population, we do need to take measures to secure our state’s water supply, by diversifying our water sources,” he said.

“And that’s why desalination’s so important.”

Smoke around Melbourne

The fires around Melbourne are generating a large amount of smoke.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) is advising residents in Melbourne that due to the extent of bushfires around Victoria in the past week, they may be experiencing increased smoke from fire suppression activities being undertaken by the Department of Sustainability and Environment and CFA fire crews.

Winds from the north and north-east have carried smoke into Melbourne.

The Department of Human Services is advising people affected by smoke exposure to seek medical advice or call Nurse on Call on 1300 60 60 24.

Meanwhile, weather forecasters say Victoria has had its driest ever start to the year.

The weather bureau’s Phil King says the state’s extreme conditions keep breaking records.

“Not only have we had extremely hot conditions, with our heatwaves and our hottest ever temperature; we’ve only had 2.2 millimetres so far, mid way through February, and that’s the driest start on record.”

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