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Analysis and Comment (62)

Australia won’t be building anything as big as the Gordon Dam any time soon. JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons

Dam hard: water storage is a historic headache for Australia

The agricultural green paper released last week proposes 27 new water and irrigation projects, which the government claims will be necessary for Australia’s agricultural expansion. The emphasis is firmly…
The Ord River dam, completed in 1971, formed Australia’s largest artificial lake in the far north west. Graeme Churchard/Flickr

Dams are not the smart way to secure water for agriculture

Some 27 irrigation and dam projects are highlighted in the green paper for agricultural competitiveness released this week by agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce. Six of the projects – five in Tasmania…
The once-popular Loch McNess north of Perth has dried up almost completely after a decades-long dry period. ron_n_beth/Flickr

Saving water in a drying climate: lessons from south-west Australia

Since 1970, average rainfall in the south-west of Western Australia has decreased by nearly a fifth, and the science suggests that this is linked to human-caused climate change. Across Australia, CSIRO…
A test mine for the Alpha Coal project in central Queensland, which appears likely to go ahead but with greater groundwater protections. AAP Image/Greenpeace, Andrew Quilty

Alpha Coal ruling breaks new ground for protecting water

This week’s court ruling on the future of the A$6.4 billion Alpha Coal project in Queensland – set to be one of the biggest coal mines in the world – is of major significance for how mining projects are…
One of Saturn’s many moons, Enceladus seems to have a large body of water hiding under its icy crust. NASA

Waterworld? Cassini spots the motion of Enceladus’s ocean

An ocean of water has been found underneath the icy crust of Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, according to observations of the Cassini spacecraft published in Science today. This result has come…
More than half of Australians say they recycle for mostly environmental reasons. Shutterstock/spwidoff

Most Australians overestimate how ‘green’ they really are

Most Australians overestimate how much they are doing for the environment compared to others, and are more concerned about water shortages, pollution and household waste than climate change, a new CSIRO…
If the wells are dry, it doesn’t matter how many hands on the pumps. Kevin Frayer/AP

Water supply will struggle to meet demands of thirstier world

There are already many countries where the scarcity of water affects people’s lives. While water for drinking may be first to come to mind, as agriculture is the largest use of water worldwide water scarcity…
What toilet? In this refugee camp, children play in the holes dug for latrines. Oxfam International

Solving the toilet shortage needs a bottom-up approach

Why does one third of the world’s population have inadequate sanitation? Hopefully I can shed a bit of light on this. You see, my work is shit – literally – which is why I call myself a water, sanitation…
Rocky, water-rich asteroids and similar objects likely delivered the bulk of water on Earth. Now they’re being found well outside our Solar system. Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge

Watery asteroid gobbled up by a white dwarf: implications for life

How will future alien scientists know whether life existed in our solar system? One method may be to sift through the planetary debris left when our sun becomes a white dwarf. Astronomers are doing just…
Martin Parker

What if water had memory?

Homeopaths believe water has memory. That is how they explain the “medicinal properties” of their concoctions. Apparently people are treated even though the pill or potion may not contain a single molecule…
Social conventions stemming from the marketing of washing product companies means we wash our clothes more than we need to. Jackson Boyle

The dirt on clothes: why washing less is more sustainable

If you’re worried about dressing ethically, chances are you think about sweatshop conditions in developing countries, unsustainable farming practices, convoluted global supply chains that ring up a huge…
Solving Western Australia’s water crisis has been an ongoing issue for Liberal and Labor state governments. Steven McGuinnity

WA’s water woes: a thirsty election issue

Ten years have passed since the 2005 Western Australian election, when the state’s battle lines were drawn over Perth’s water future. Geoff Gallop’s Labor party argued for desalination or the Southwest…
As any barramundi fisher will tell you, northern Australia’s water isn’t going to waste. Justin Friend

Someone is already using northern Australia’s water: wildlife

With increasing pressure on Australia’s water resources, many have looked to northern Australia to provide water for agriculture, urban development and other human needs. Much of northern Australia is…
With so many interests vested in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, implementation will remain a challenge. mike (away for a while)/Flickr

Basin Plan is historic but let’s not lose the whole story

Reaching agreement on a Murray-Darling Basin Plan is undoubtedly a significant political accomplishment. The water resources of the Murray-Darling have been the basis of disagreement between states, industries…
The Plan includes the eventual delivery of “up to” 3200 gigalitres of water to the environment. Jeremy Buckimham MLC/Flickr

Finally: Murray-Darling Basin Plan signed into law

Yesterday, Minister for the Environment Tony Burke signed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan into law, after the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had made the final changes he requested. One hurdle remains. The…
Fluoridated water protects against the tooth decay from acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. T. Faltings

How fluoride in water helps prevent tooth decay

The most effective way to prevent tooth decay is delivered to most Australian homes every day through their water pipes. It is, of course, fluoride distributed via the water supply. Dental decay occurs…
Three years ago we discovered water on the moon, and now we’ve worked out where it’s from. Jason Bache

Blowin' in the (solar) wind: how the moon got its water

A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience last week suggests water on the moon may have come, at least in part, from the sun. Until a few years ago the orthodox view was that the moon was bone-dry…
Ever wonder why Australians spend half a billion dollars a year on something that comes from the tap? slinky2000

An untapped resource: how water became the ultimate consumer product

Water is just water, right? To some, yes, but many consumers spend inordinate amounts of time considering which brand they should buy and are willing to pay many times more than the price of humble tap…
The Wonthaggi desalination plant was proposed as Victoria’s solution to water security, but has been the subject of community concern and protest. AAP/Thiess

Solving water security: don’t ignore the public

What is the best solution to the problem of water security in Australia? Finding an answer to this question is no easy matter. There is still much we don’t know about the nature and impact of climate change…
The waters of the Kimberley in Western Australia have long tempted politicians and engineers wanting to make the drier southern regions bloom. Flickr/Koala:Bear

Western water dreamers rise again with Colin Barnett’s canal vision

Settler Australians have a long history of trying to harness the continent’s great rivers to water the dead heart of the country. Schemes such as those of Bradfield and Idriess in the 1930s and 1940s sought…
The price we pay for water should reflect what it costs to deliver. But does it? Bronwyn Quilliam

Manipulating water prices: why your bill is going up

The revelation that water users in Melbourne have been over-charged to the tune of $300 million highlights deficiencies in the mechanics of setting water prices in that state. Unfortunately, the flaws…
Liquid politics: fights over water will heat up unless its management is democratised. Flickr/Kyle Horner

Challenge 2: Water; a local resource, a global problem

Welcome to the State of the Future series. This series addresses 15 global challenges posed by the Millennium Project, an international non-profit think-tank collecting responses for 40 nodes worldwide…
Irrigation infrastructure, buy-backs, environmental flows, agricultural communities: lobbyists will say anything to win the Murray-Darling war of lies. Eco Images Pty Ltd

Lies, dam lies and water plans: the MDB Plan and the states

When the water planning process for the Murray-Darling Basin first commenced, an experienced colleague of mine noted that this was shaping up to be a lying contest between farmers and environmentalists…
A nice drop: we have the technology to recycle water to drinking quality, but have we the will? Flickr/chantel beam photography

Recycled drinking water: what Australians need to know

Our conventional water supply system that continually captures and delivers water is under great strain because of an increase in population, rapid urbanisation, and drastic changes in climate and rainfall…
Money isn’t the only way of measuring the Murray-Darling’s environmental benefits, but it’s a useful one. CSIRO

Complex but rewarding: putting a value on the Murray-Darling plan

One of the big challenges around the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Proposed Basin Plan is to work out just how much the basin’s environment would benefit from the plan. When the Guide to the proposed…
Almost 90% of the world now has access to drinking water, but there is still a long way to go. barefoot photographers of tilonia/flickr

Is this progress? Watering down the Millennium Development Goals

Did you hear about the latest success for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Don’t be ashamed to say no – most of the world missed it with you. So what happened? You’ll remember that the MDGs are…
We can’t tame the oceans, but modelling can help us better understand them. Badruddeen

Super models – using maths to mitigate natural disasters

Last year will go on record as one of significant natural disasters both in Australia and overseas. Indeed, the flooding of the Brisbane River in January is still making news as the Queensland floods inquiry…
The science tells us what’s good for the environment; it’s up to others to decide the priorities. thinboyfatter

The science behind the Murray-Darling Basin plan

CSIRO, like many other research institutions, has helped provide research, models and data to inform the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. But the proposed Basin Plan, which was released on…
It doesn’t take much for sewage to break out of its pipes and into waterways. Claire Evans

Popping the pipe: how sewage gets out into the environment

Australia’s urban waterways are often polluted and sick. They suffer from a condition called the “urban stream syndrome”. A common factor that contributes is contamination from sewage. How and why does…
Water bursting from dams doesn’t just look impressive; it’s vital to the health of Australian rivers. Kincuri

Rivers, rain and releases: what happens when you dam a waterway?

Water exploding from the Jindabyne Dam into the Snowy River made for compelling viewing in recent TV news reports. As well as being good TV, this water release highlighted the importance of releases in…
Water, habitat and tourist dollars: the Alps provide it all. Jane Rawson

We need our Alps, so why aren’t we looking after them?

The Australian Alps cover some 1.64 million hectares, 0.3% of the Australian continent. Included on the National Heritage register, they are of major environmental significance and home to rare and endangered…
In a changing climate, urban water planning needs to be more flexible. Joe Castro/AAP

Water we waiting for? The unfinished business of water reform

The National Water Commission released its Third Biennial Assessment of the 2004 National Water Initiative (NWI) in September. The NWI is an agreement between all state and territory governments and federal…
Coal seam gas mining can create 5 million litres of “produced” water per well. Jeremy Buckingham MLC

National Water Commission calls for a closer look at fracking

Last week, the Federal Government’s National Water Commission (NWC) delivered its third biannual assessment of the national water initiative (NWI). And for the first time, the NWC is looking seriously…
Irrigators say they like the Windsor Inquiry, but are they looking after their own interests? AAP

Inquiry slams ‘Swiss cheese effect’ in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Windsor Inquiry has handed down its report on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It recommends a halt to water buybacks, more investment in irrigation efficiency and a new governance model for the Basin…
A missed opportunity to resuscitate our rivers. Flickr/wazzas world

A plea to think big: a vision for a budget beyond self-interest

A vision splendid of the sunlit plain extended? The federal budget acknowledges the profound impact of flood, fire and cyclones on our economy. It compensates, rebuilds and funds mental health programs…
Don’t panic: plan for water shortages early. AAP

Better water planning could avoid desalination

Apparently desalination plants are the answer to keeping Australian cities supplied with water. All that is required is to remove enough salt from an unlimited source of water to provide for each city’s…
Turning off the taps means we spend less, but is that bad? Flickr/siette

Economists want water conservation to dry up

The Productivity Commission’s recent report on Australia’s urban water sector sets out the economic case for reform. One reform they suggest: remove water conservation measures. In Melbourne, most people…
It’s blue skies for some parts of the Basin, but others are left wanting. AAP

Government myopic on Murray Darling’s complex needs

The controversy over the Murray Darling Basin Guide centres on the need to strike a balance between the social, economic and environmental uses of water. The difficulties in undertaking this task are most…

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Seasonal flows on Mars could be salty water

Dark, finger-like features that appear and extend down some Martian slopes during the warmest months of the Mars year may…