NCWQ Environment Report: July 2020

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Summary: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic  and since more than 70% of all new diseases emerging in humans are thought to have been caught from animals, factors  contributing to  zoonotic transmission are explored e.g. conditions in wildlife wet markets, illicit global wildlife trade.  Environmental and cultural issues are raised. The focus of this report has been on China since the COVID-19 pandemic began there. But there is no reason to suppose a similar pandemic could not begin elsewhere in Southeast Asia, South Asia, sub‐ Saharan Africa, or Latin America.

To avoid another pandemic, global cooperation is essential.  The unanimous passing of the EU and Australian led resolution at the World Health Assembly for an inquiry into the origins of and the international response to COVID-19, is encouraging. To a certain extent, nations and regions can undertake measures to ban wildlife sections in wet markets, enforce strict hygiene regulations, legislate on animal welfare, enforce wildlife trade legislation and undertake public outreach campaigns on these issues. However global illicit wildlife trade  can only be achieved through global cooperation.

Wet markets: For many low and middle-income countries wet markets provide fresh meat and other perishable goods for people who lack access to refrigeration. They are the predominate food-source for billions of people, particularly those living below the poverty line. The food is cheap and perceived to be fresher than in grocery stories. Given that food moves quickly in a wet market situation to prevent it spoiling and research in food safety have shown that the likelihood of foodborne disease increases with the length of value chains, there are some grounds for this belief. https://reachout.aciar.gov.au/wet-markets-not-so-cut-and-dry.  Unfortunately hygiene standards in some markets leave a lot to be desired,

Wet markets with wildlife sections: Some wet markets in parts of Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania have a section for trading in exotic wildlife, slaughtering and selling live animals on site. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7057189/  Not only are the products seen as  fresher, not expensive but also the market  provides rare types of creatures that serve as status symbols or are believed to possess unique healing elements.  Aguirre, A. Alonso, Catherina, Richard, Frye, Hailey   and Louise Shelley. Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID‐19:  Preventing Future Pandemics.  World Medical and Health Policy · June 2020

In China, the wildlife trade is estimated to be a 520 billion yuan (US$740 billion) business employing more than 14 million people. A wide variety of exotic species from quail, to ostriches, snakes, crocodiles and civets are bred. About 7.6 million people are in the fur and leather industry valued at about 390 billion yuan. The rest help breed and process animals for food. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3051896/chinas-frog-breeders-silenced-over-opposition-wildlife-trade

In addition, many animals are poached, imported, and exported illegally for food, medicine, trophies, and pets.  For example, although it is against the law, the critically endangered migratory songbird, the Yellow-breasted Bunting  is trapped at its wintering grounds in China  and eaten as a delicacy. https://www.worldmigratorybirdday.org/2017/species/yellow-breasted-bunting

2014 study that surveyed more than a thousand people in five Chinese cities found radically different practices in different parts of the country. In Guangzhou in the southeast and a frequent destination for yellow-breasted buntings, 83% of people interviewed had eaten wildlife in the previous year; in Shanghai, 14% had, and in Beijing, just 5%. While only the rich can afford soup made with palm civet, fried cobra, or braised bear paw, frogs are a common and inexpensive wildlife dish. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/01/china-bans-wildlife-trade-after-coronavirus-outbreak/

According to a report in the South China Morning Post on January 29, 2020, Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market which was identified as the likely source of many early cases of COVID-19,  had a section that sold some 120 different wildlife animals across 75 species. According to other reports, the wet market sold live animals including, but not limited to wolf cubs, camels, peacocks, bats, pangolins, pigs, crocodiles, and dogs. https://sentientmedia.org/wet-markets-zoonotic-diseases/May 14, 2020

In Indonesia wildlife wet markets selling slaughtered bats alongside other exotic animal meats continue to operate under conditions similar to those in China. At North Sulawesi’s Tomohon “extreme meat” market, bat carcas­ses, charred dog bodies, pig heads, eviscerated pythons suspended from meat hooks, whole cooked rats on sticks were photographed for sale. In Jakarta’s Jatinegara market, live bats — slaughtered for their hearts, which are considered good for asthmatics — were displayed in cages wedged against others ­holding known coronavirus vector species such as illegally caught civets, monkeys and snakes. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/coronavirus-extreme-markets-flourish-in-indonesia/news-story/d0ef55fd8fb0950023bc911f51705302 April 28th 2020

Animal Welfare Concerns: In places where wet markets are most common, such as China, animal welfare regulations are still developing. For example, there is no legal requirement to “humanely” slaughter animals by first stunning them and rendering them insensitive to pain. However one survey found over 70% of respondents supporting the improvement of rearing conditions for farmed animals. Around 65% agreed to establish laws to improve animal welfarehttps://sentientmedia.org/wet-markets-zoonotic-diseases/

Hygiene in wet wildlife markets has long been a major concern. Stressed and frightened animals who may be infected with diseases can urinate, defecate, and excrete other biofluids in essentially the same areas where they are killed and their meat is taken by customers. Substandard hygienic practices are contributing to the transmission of a broad range of infections, including COVID-19. https://sentientmedia.org/wet-markets-zoonotic-diseases/

Malta, Monica ,  Rimoin, Anne W.and Steffanie A. Strathdee  The coronavirus 2019-nCoV epidemic: Is hindsight 20/20? EClinicalMedicine. 2020 Mar; 20: 100289.

The Risk of Transmitting Zoonotic Diseases: More than 70% of all new diseases emerging in humans are thought to have been caught from animals, some of which, such as bats, primates and rodents, might have lived with the viruses for thousands of years.

In the past half century, deadly disease outbreaks caused by novel viruses of animal origin include

  • Nipah virus in Malaysia,
  • Hendra virus in Australia,
  • Hanta virus in the United States,
  • Ebola virus in Africa,
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus),
  • several influenza subtypes,
  • SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus and
  • MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) coronavirus.

Bats have served as a reservoir species with the following animals as transmission hosts

  • pigs for Nipah virus
  • horses for Hendra virus,
  • primates and bats for Ebola,
  • civet cats as for SARS and
  • dromedary camels for MERS-Co.

Bat viruses tend to be very stable but once the virus has jumped to a new host species, it can mutate and grow in potency before leaping again into humans.

Forum on Microbial Threats; Board on Global Health; Institute of Medicine. Emerging Viral Diseases: The One Health Connection: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Mar 19. Workshop Overview. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK284993/

 https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/how-does-an-epidemic-spread-and-what-does-the-wildlife-trade-have-to-do-with-it-20200129-p53vvm.html

COVID-19:  A few years ago, scientists traced the origin of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus to a fruit bat found in Yunnan province, but about 4% of its genes were new. A coronavirus isolated from pangolins is a 99% genetic match to the one that has killed many people in Central China according to a study by a team of Chinese civilian and military scientists. This suggested pangolins could be an intermediate host. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3049538/could-pangolins-be-piece-coronavirus-puzzle

The emergence of disease from wildlife and spread to and among humans has been driven by

the escalated need for food production to meet present and future demand leading to the intrusion of agriculture into previously untouched areas of the native environment   As

populations grow  and expand geographically there are increasing opportunities for contact with wildlife and disturbance of  habitat.

  • The impact of climate change resulting in disturbances in ecosystems and a redistribution of disease reservoirs and vectors.
  • Increased globalization and travel significantly increasing the chance, extent, and spread at which disease transmission occurs.

Forum on Microbial Threats; Board on Global Health; Institute of Medicine. Emerging Viral Diseases: The One Health Connection: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Mar 19. Workshop Overview. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK284993/

As a consequence of environmental destruction, bats, reservoirs of zoonotic viruses, seek new areas to feed, sometimes causing them to come into contact with livestock that will be eventually sold in open markets. Viruses that are transmitted from animals to humans are very dangerous to human life due to the absence of herd immunity among the human population. Aguirre, A. Alonso, Catherina, Richard, Frye, Hailey   and Louise Shelley. Illicit Wildlife Trade, Wet Markets, and COVID‐19:  Preventing Future Pandemics.  World Medical and Health Policy · June 2020

Traditional Medicine:  The Chinese traditional medicine industry, which heavily relies on ancient belief in the healing powers of animal parts, is a massive driver of the wildlife trade. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/01/china-bans-wildlife-trade-after-coronavirus-outbreak/

Traditional medicines containing threatened wildlife parts such as pangolin scales, leopard bones, saiga horn and the bile of captive-bred bears are still legal in China. The Beijing Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM), which provides guidance for medical institutions in the municipality on treatments using TCM promotes a treatment containing bile extracted from the gallbladders of caged bears as part of an official COVID-19 treatment plan https://eia-international.org/news/unbelievable-chinese-govt-recommends-injections-containing-bear-bile-to-treat-coronavirus/

Illicit Global Wildlife trade and threat to biodiversity: The global trade in exotic wildlife, sold for meat, parts and as exotic pets, is now the world’s fourth-largest contraband market after drugs, humans and guns. Trade in protected species is estimated at least $22 billion each year globally and demand is growing fast, but largely under-policed. The main corridor of trade, South-east Asia, includes China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, with China still the biggest market, having outlawed the consumption of protected species only in recent years. But US and Europe’s markets are increasing.

China has banned ivory but continues to allow commercial farming of certain animals for their parts, including the critically endangered tiger.  In addition to civets and the critically endangered migratory songbird, the Yellow-breasted Bunting, being  served as delicacies, the endangered pangolin, the world’s most illegally trafficked animal, is in demand for its scales and meat in cuisine and traditional medicine. Other products such as tiger bone and rhino horn are increasingly sold as status symbols or cures for everything from cancer to hangovers. https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/how-does-an-epidemic-spread-and-what-does-the-wildlife-trade-have-to-do-with-it-20200129-p53vvm.html

Breeding centres are allowed to operate under loopholes in Chinese domestic law, arguably against the spirit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-has-finally-made-us-recognise-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-is-a-public-health-issue-133673

The Department of Agriculture and Environment says Australia’s unique wildlife is highly sought after abroad as pets and has been reported in Asia, Europe and North America. Data since 2017 shows Border Force has made about 500 seizures of illegal wildlife products a year, including turtle shells, ivory and animal skins, most of them imports. Australia now has some of the toughest penalties in the world – up to 10 years’ jail and $210,000 in fines. https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/how-does-an-epidemic-spread-and-what-does-the-wildlife-trade-have-to-do-with-it-20200129-p53vvm.html

Chinese Legislation: In February, the Chinese Government  banned the consumption of most terrestrial wild animals as food in the wake of COVID-19, although the ban does not cover use of wildlife products in traditional Chinese medicine or as ornamental items.https://eia-international.org/news/unbelievable-chinese-govt-recommends-injections-containing-bear-bile-to-treat-coronavirus This temporary ban covered some 20,000 captive enterprises and 54 different species allowed to be traded domestically.

The Chinese government has now issued a new draft list of livestock that can be farmed for meat including dietary staples such as pigs, cows, chickens and sheep, as well as “special livestock” such as a number of species of deer, alpaca and ostriches.  Two species of fox, raccoons and minks can be kept as livestock but not for their meat.  There is no mention of the species of animal which are suspected by scientists to have spread the virus to humans, such as pangolins, bats and civet cats. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/10/asia/china-wildlife-law-coronavirus-intl-hnk/index.html 

As China’s parliament prepares new laws to permanently ban the trade and consumption of wildlife, local action plans published this week suggest the country’s fur trade and lucrative traditional medicine sectors will continue as usual. https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/china-legislators-take-on-wildlife-trade-skip-traditional-medicine-20200521-p54v5s.htm

With a national plan, Chinese authorities have pledged to buy out breeders in an attempt to curb exotic animal breeding. Two major wildlife breeding central provinces, Hunan and Jiangxi, have already outlined details of a buyout program to help farmers switch to alternative livelihoods. Hunan has set out a compensation scheme to persuade breeders to rear other livestock or produce tea and herbal medicines. Authorities will evaluate farms and inventories and offer a one-off payment of 120 yuan ($16) per kilogram of rat snake, king ratsnake and cobra, while a kilogram of bamboo rat will fetch 75 yuan and a civet, 600yuan. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/wuhan-china-coronavirus-bans-eating-wild-animals-breeding-wet-markets/. These buy back and compensation schemes are commendable.

Still, the numerous exceptions in the Chinese legislation allow breeding of some wildlife to be used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. If breeding centres for endangered species like tigers or pangolins could be permanently closed, it would be much harder for products to be laundered through legal channels and sold as more valuable wild product. https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-has-finally-made-us-recognise-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-is-a-public-health-issue-133673

Global Problem needing Global Remedies: Some organisations are calling for blanket bans.  However, there are dangers. The trade could be driven underground where hygiene regulation would be near impossible. A black market could encourage corruption and even increase the risk of the trade being controlled by organised crime. 

Some measures to address the problem could be taken at the national or even regional level.

  • Banning wild life sections in wet markets. There is widespread support for closure of unregulated wildlife markets across Southeast Asia: In a March poll commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund, about 5,000 people in Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, 93 percent of participants supported governments taking action to eliminate illegal and unregulated wildlife markets. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/04/coronavirus-linked-to-chinese-wet-markets/
  • Enforcing strict hygiene regulations,
  • Legislating animal welfare,
  • Undertaking public outreach campaigns about the dangers of wild life sections in wet markets and exotic meats,
  • Enforcing legislation to combat illicit wildlife trade in endangered or exotic animals

However cooperation is needed at the global level on law enforcement to combat illicit wildlife trade

Australian researchers have developed a “Border Force-ready” test on echidna spines to detect whether wild echidnas are being laundered out of New Guinea. After the success of that trial, the team is hoping to develop a similar test for pangolin scales, which are trafficked by the tonne across the globe.https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/how-does-an-epidemic-spread-and-what-does-the-wildlife-trade-have-to-do-with-it-20200129-p53vvm.html

Training Program to help prevent spread of animal to human diseases: Since the majority of emerging infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, are zoonotic, a $4.3m program funded by the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security (IPCHS)  at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  and  led by scientists from Schools of Veterinary Science in Universities across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific, will engage with government animal health authorities and educators in the Asia-Pacific region to strengthen the capacity to detect, respond, control and prevent animal disease outbreaks that could affect human health, animal health and farmer livelihoods.  Program leader, Associate Professor Navneet Dhand, from the University of Sydney  said transboundary animal diseases, which travel quickly across borders, and zoonotic diseases, are increasing in frequency due to a range of factors including population growth, urbanisation and increasing global air travel. The program will run for three years in Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The rapid transmission of COVID-19 and its huge economic and health impact has demonstrated the need for this training. https://about.unimelb.edu.au/newsroom/news/2020/april/new-project-to-help-prevent-spread-of-animal-to-human-diseases

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/coronavirus-animal-disease-detectives-to-fight-human-transmission/news-story/eac91743b7fad9da747bbee3f69229f4;

The IPCSH is partnering with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to strengthen health security of the above countries, including through National Bridging Workshops (NBW) that aim to bring human and animal health colleagues together to identify priority areas for action and collaboration. To better prevent and control infectious diseases of which 75% are zoonotic, systems for human health and animal health need to be closely linked. https://indopacifichealthsecurity.dfat.gov.au/one-health-partnership-strengthen-animal-and-human-health

Coronavirus inquiry resolution adopted at World Health Assembly. On the 19th May 2020 at the 73rd World Health Assembly, an EU and Australian led resolution for an inquiry into the origins of and the international response to coronavirus stablished at the earliest possible opportunity, was adopted unanimously. The review will identify the source of the virus and the route of introduction from other animals to the human population, as well as consider lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/coronavirus-inquiry-resolution-adopted-at-world-health-assembly-as-china-signs-on-20200519-p54ukn.html

NCWQ Environment Report: February 2020

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on impact of lack of reliable water on regional communities and industries and the environment.   

The Problem: In my NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, November 2019, I drew attention to the fact that many billions of megalitres of water can flow out to sea while other parts of the country suffer extreme drought.  The freshwater flood plumes can cause environmental damage to the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Drought significantly impacts the environment, industries and communities including Murray Darling Basin.

Regional towns were running out of water with dam levels dangerously low.  While some rain has fallen, emergency water restrictions remain in place in some areas. e.g. While the level and volume for Stanthorpe increased from 9.5% and 196 megalitres (ML)  at 3rd February 2020 to 17.5% and 362 ML. at 17th February, water carting is continuing to Stanthorpe. Water remains in Storm King Dam as a contingency for emergency events and to provide a habitat for aquatic life. https://www.sdrc.qld.gov.au/living-here/water-wastewater/water-update

Rain has fallen across Murray Darling Basin recently but not enough to end the drought.  The flows in many rivers will be boosted and dam storage levels lifted but threats to water quality persist, including contamination from bushfire debris.

https://www.mdba.gov.au/managing-water/drought-murray-darling-basin/murray-darling-basin-drought-update

Rainfall Projections: Rainfall in the near future (2030) and late in the century (2090) has been projected by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology  for clusters of Natural Resource Management Regions including the following:-

  • The Wet Tropics cluster which contains the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Areas, as well as a high proportion of the Great Barrier Reef catchment,
  • The Monsoonal North East with the Mitchell, Gilbert, Norman and Staaten River catchments, all of which flow into the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Burdekin region, 
  • The Central Slopes cluster comprising NRM regions to the west of the Great Dividing Range from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the central west of New South Wales with a number of important headwater catchments for the Murray Darling Basin and
  • The Murray Basin cluster comprises NRM regions across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The cluster extends from the flatlands of inland New South Wales to the Great Dividing Range.

In the near future, natural variability is projected to predominate over trends due to greenhouse gas emissions for all of the above clusters. However for the Wet Tropics and Monsoonal North East Clusters it is noted that because global climate models offer diverse results, and models have shortcomings in resolving some tropical processes it is difficult to provide confident rainfall projections.

By late in the century, 

  • for the Wet Tropics, projections generally have low confidence,
  • for the Monsoonal North East, projections generally have low confidence
  • for the Central Slopes, climate models indicate decreasing winter rainfall with high confidence. There is a good understanding of the physical mechanisms driving this change (southward shift of winter storm systems together with rising mean pressure over the region). Decreases are also projected in spring, with medium confidence. The direction of change in summer and autumn cannot be confidently projected due to the complexity of rain producing systems in this region, the large spread of model results, and some inconsistent results from finer scale modelling. 
  • For the Murray Basin cool season (April to October) less rainfall is projected with high confidence. In the warm season (November to March), there is medium confidence that rainfall will remain unchanged. 

Increased intensity of extreme daily rainfall events is projected with high confidence for Wet Tropics, Monsoonal North East and Central Slopes clusters. Even though mean annual rainfall is projected to decline, heavy rainfall intensity is projected to increase, with high confidence.

For the Murray Basin and Central Slopes clusters time spent in drought is projected, with medium confidence, to increase over the course of the century. For Wet Tropics and Monsoonal North East clusters, drought will continue to be a feature of the regional climate variability, but projected changes are uncertain.

WWW.CLIMATECHANGEINAUSTRALIA.GOV.AU CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology Brochures (WET_TROPICS; MONSOONAL_NORH; CENTRAL_SLOPES; MURRAY_BASIN)

Various Proposals to address the problem:

In my NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, November2019, the following proposals were discussed:-

  • Bradfield Scheme 1938
  • Revised Bradfield’s Scheme 1981
  • Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme: 2019
  • NSW Proposals (diverting flows from the Manning, Macleay and Hunter rivers inland)
  • Hell’s Gate Dam in North Queensland :
  • Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment program (Fitzroy, Darwin, Mitchell catchments)
  • National Water Grid

Environmental impacts of dams: Dams can supply significant sources of hydropower, water supply or flood protection but a dam must have a sustainable purpose and operating mission to provide a greater benefit than the environmental impacts of its existence or the risks associated with its ageing structurehttps://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featurelarge-or-small-4978245/

Environmental issues with dams to be addressed include:-

  • riparian habitat loss,: upstream of a dam, impounded water can drown riparian communities; downstream  the shore line changes and with it the riparian communities,
  •  sedimentation:  Dams can trap sediments normally deposited downstream. The storage capacity of the dam can be reduced with high sedimentation. Seasonal flooding which would fertilise and water flood plains can be interrupted and debris in river channels not cleared or redistributed downstream,
  • erosion can reshape river channels below the dam, once sediment deposition ceases,
  • water quality may deteriorate in reservoirs (e.g., thermal stress, low dissolved oxygen, acidification), especially close to the bottom.  It can decline as a result of drainage water returning from irrigation projects . If the reservoir becomes shallower through sedimentation, in arid regions evaporation could increase leaving behind salts and decreasing the water quality.
  • groundwater: With seepage into bedrock, river water  could enter groundwater and water tables rise around a reservoir,
  • fish migration and reproduction could be disrupted
https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dams-environmental-effects

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF DAMS ON THE ENVIRONMENT

M. Sait TAHMİSCİOĞLU, Nermin ANUL, Fatih EKMEKÇİ and Nurcan DURMUS INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON RIVER BASIN MANAGEMENT 2011 P759=69

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),

The location of the dam, size of reservoir (height of dam, volume of reservoir), and water residence time affect the impact.  The dam operation mode can determine the seasonal variation of stored water, water level fluctuations, sediment capture and release, as well as daily and seasonal downstream flow patterns.

Sediment Management options depend on storage capacity, mean annual runoff, and

mean annual sediment load and include sediment sluicing, sediment flushing, sediment bypass, and sediment augmentation downstream of reservoirs .

Habitat Improvements in Reservoirs. Mitigation measures can comprise instream structures such as gravel bars, islands, etc., lateral widenings of the cross profiles in riverine  sections of impoundments, creating artificial habitats in lacustrine section, and bypass systems within  the alluvial floodplains.

Riverine Zone                          Lacustrine Zone

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),

Large and small dams can provide water storage but the size and type of dam needs to suit both the site conditions and satisfy the objectives for its construction.  The impact of a dam varies with the river, the dam’s design, and the projected use.  Small dams can be best suited for small hydroelectric developments utilising low diversion and storage, for smaller scale irrigation projects, flood control on smaller tributaries, ground water recharge basins, and off-site storage of recycled water or desalinated water.

Off-stream reservoirs constructed on smaller streams which store water pumped from a nearby river or adjacent basin typically have less environmental impact. A small dam can have less impact on the environment if designed to be more effective in safely passing fish species both upstream and downstream, and to bypass sediment  https://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featurelarge-or-small-4978245/

While fluvial characteristics are maintained to some extent in small reservoirs, e.g., run-of-the-river

hydropower plants, lentic conditions prevail in large storage reservoirs.

Dams: Ecological Impacts and Management Stefan Schmutz and Otto Moog (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),

Water security throughout the country and in all sectors is vitally important.  Surely an extensive feasibility study with bipartisan support, both Federal and State, is needed to address this perennial problem of lack of  reliable water for regional communities and industries and the environment.  Surface and groundwater capture-and-storage options, land suitability, the commercial viability of primary production should be considered with potential environmental, social, indigenous and economic impacts and risks.

NCWQ Environment Report: April 2020

By Pap Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

The environmental issues of two major recent occurrences, the 2019-20 bushfires and the coral bleaching of reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are discussed – Why they occurred, the consequences and some actions being taken or that have potential.

The 2019-20 bushfire season was disastrous with at least 34 lives lost, over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) destroyed and an estimated 18.6 million hectares burnt. NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes of CO2 had been emitted as of 2 January 2020. While this might normally be reabsorbed by forest regrowth, prolonged drought has damaged the ability of forests to fully regrow and may take decades. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Australian_bushfire_season

Raging bushfire with flames as tall as the trees
Koala after a bushfire sitting on the ground in front of a fence.

                           

Photo: CSIRO                                                       Photo: M Fillinger https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-03-05/bushfire-                                             crisis-five-big-numbers/12007716

Australian Academy of Science Fellow Professor Chris Dickman has estimated that Australia has lost at least a billion birds, mammals and reptiles this bushfire season. This figure does not include insects, bats, fish and frogs.  Even if animals survive the fires by fleeing or going underground, they return or re-emerge into areas that don’t have the resources to support them. Others will fall victim to introduced predators such as feral cats and red foxes. Even for those birds or animals able to flee to unaffected areas they will rarely be able to successfully compete with animals already living there and succumb within a short time. Some endangered species may be driven to extinction.

Australia is at risk of losing a significant proportion of its biodiversity and because much of that biodiversity occurs only here in Australia, it’s a global loss.https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2020/01/08/australian-bushfires-more-than-one-billion-animals-impacted.html https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/news-and-media-releases/australian-bushfires-why-they-are-unprecedented Also the bushfires have not only taken a heavy toll on wildlife but have affected water and air quality.

While bushfires form part of the natural cycle of Australia’s landscapes, factors such as climate trends, weather patterns and vegetation management by humans can all contribute to the intensity of bushfires. The most destructive fires have been preceded by extreme high temperatures, low relative humidity and strong winds, combining to create ideal conditions to rapidly spread fire. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b2/2019_Spring_BOM_FFDI_scs72.png/200px-2019_Spring_BOM_FFDI_scs72.png

            

FFDI (Forest Fire Danger Index), Spring 2019

The primary causes of the 2019–20 bushfire was seen as severely below average fuel moisture attributed to record-breaking temperatures and drought, accompanied by severe fire weather, and that these are likely to have been exacerbated by long-term trends of warmer and dryer weather observed over the Australian land mass. 

The major cause of ignition of fires during the 2019-20 fire crisis in NSW and Victoria is reported to be lightning strikes with alleged arson accounting for around 1% of NSW fires and 0.3% of Victorian fires by 18 January 2020.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Australian_bushfire_season

The significance of major circulation patterns on climate variability in Australia has been studied:- 

  • the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) referring to the extensive warming of the sea surface region in the central and eastern Pacific, 
  • the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) similar to El Nino in that it is a change in climate related to sea surface temperatures but tending to last much longer, 20-30 years as opposed to 18 months, 
  • the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) – the difference in ocean temperatures between the west and east tropical Indian Ocean, that can shift moisture towards or away from Australia, and 
  • Southern Annular Mode (SAM) – a mode of variation in the atmosphere of the high latitudes in the southern hemisphere. 

One study investigating the influence of the ENSO on fire risk found that the proportion of days with a high, or greater than high, fire danger rating markedly increased during El Niño episodes and was further increased when the IPO was negative during these El Niño eventsVerdon D.C. , Kiem A.S and S.W. Franks (2004) Int. J. of Wildland Fire 13(2) 165-171 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF03034

In another study with data from 39 stations from1973 to 2017, Harris and Lucas (2019) found ENSO to be the main driver for interannual variability of fire weather as measured by the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI). They reported that in general, El Niño-like conditions led to more extreme fire weather, with this effect stronger in eastern Australia but with significant regional variations to this general rule. In NSW, particularly along the central coast, negative SAM was a primary influence for elevated fire weather in late-winter and spring. In the southeast (Victoria and Tasmania), the El Niño-like impact was exacerbated when positive IOD conditions were simultaneously observed. The spring conditions were key, and strongly influenced what was observed during the following summer. On longer time scales (45 years), linear trends were upward at most stations; this trend was strongest in the southeast and during the spring. The positive trends were not driven by the trends in the climate drivers and they were not consistent with hypothesized impacts of the IPO, either before or after its late-1990s shift to the cold phase. Harris and Lucas proposed that anthropogenic climate change was the primary driver of the trend, through both higher mean temperatures and potentially through associated shifts in large-scale rainfall patterns. They also said that variations from interannual factors were generally larger in magnitude than the trend effects observed. 

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Time series of 90th percentile FFDI annual anomaly (July-June) at each station (1973–2017). The thick line indicates the multi-station mean. The thick dotted line indicates the linear trend.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222328.g012

Harris S, Lucas C (2019) Understanding the variability of Australian fire weather between 1973 and 2017. PLoS ONE 14(9): e0222328.

Bruce Boyes, Knowledge Manager, Environmental manager, Project manager, Educator claimed the scale and seriousness of the current bushfire crisis was caused by the progressive temperature increase due to climate change, the strongest IOD on record, the influence of SAM and a well-advanced IPO progressively drying the landscape of southeastern Australia. While each one of these factors on their own would have been unlikely to have caused something of the scale and seriousness of the current bushfire crisis, all of these factors coming together did. Removing any one of these factors but leaving all of the others would also have been unlikely to have caused such a crisis. https://realkm.com/2020/01/11/the-vital-knowledge-missing-from-australias-bushfire-crisis-debates-part-1-what-can-climate-history-tell-us

In a further paper, Bruce Boyes  addressed hazard reduction burning  and debunks some of the myths about Aboriginal fire management practices.  Rather than practices being widespread and constant, they depended on the species composition of the vegetation communities in the area inhabited.  

To provide a line of defence between buildings and bushland, Boyes promotes a buffer zone completely clear of understorey, midstorey, and any fuel load and if local conditions indicate a high risk of crown fires the overstorey trees. He also discusses firelines  along the boundaries between the buffer zones and the bushland to facilitate easy access for back burning in case of an approaching wildfire, and additional firelines within the bushland areas if possible, to provide additional lines of defencehttps://realkm.com/2020/01/25/the-vital-knowledge-missing-from-australias-bushfire-crisis-debates-part-2-the-popular-narrative-and-the-unpopular-scientific-knowledge/

Citizen Science Forum:  On 14 February, CSIRO hosted a national forum which recognised that in a time of crisis, research capability is under pressure and citizen science could provide an important complement to traditional research-led monitoring campaigns.  To that end, in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia (a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy capability) and the Australian Citizen Science Association, CSIRO has developed the Citizen Science Bushfire Project Finder website which allows members of the public to contribute to projects ranging from air quality, to identifying and confirming animal and plant sightings while maintaining safe social distancing practices. https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2020/Citizen-science-to-aid-bushfire-recovery   While citizen scientists can be confronted by the number of tools and protocols aimed at ensuring data is captured in a consistent manner, this is essential to make the best use of the data. In many cases it may only be practical to get a true picture of the composition of the flora and fauna in an area and how it changes with time with the help of dedicated citizen scientists.

Threat to koalas from bats carrying a retrovirus:  On top of the high mortality from the bushfires, and loss of habitat and food supply, the koala population can be exposed, by a koala retrovirus KoRV, to cancer and chlamydia, a leading cause of infertility, blindness and kidney failure. Scientists from Burnet Institute, Melbourne and CSIRO have identified bats as a source of diverse infectious retroviruses related to KoRV. This implicates bats as a reservoir of KoRV-related viruses that potentially can be transmitted to other mammalian species. Bats are reservoirs of emerging viruses that are highly pathogenic to other mammals, including humans. For example, while remaining unaffected, bats, can host viruses including Ebola, Hendra and coronaviruses, and transmit the viruses by droppings and body fluids to other mammals. The research of Hayward et al reported the first exogenous retrovirus described in bats. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/batborne-viruses-a-deadly-threat-to-koalas/news-story/46414d893f0f36ea768b11a77ae993d8  Hayward et al  (2020) Infectious KoRV-related retroviruses circulating in Australian bats www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1915400117While SARS or SARS-like, MERS or MERS-like, 2019-nCOV or 2019-nCoV-like viruses have not yet been found in Australian wildlife (including bats), overseas bats host these viruses. https://wildlifehealthaustralia.com.au/Portals/0/Documents/FactSheets/Mammals/Coronaviruses_in_Australian_Bats.pdf

However, it should be remembered flying-foxes play a crucial role as pollinators and help keep forest ecosystems that support other species like koalas, healthy. https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2020/04/do-our-fruit-bats-carry-the-virus-behind-covid-19/

Coral Bleaching of reefs in the Great Barrier Marine Park (GBRMP): Sea temperatures in February around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest on record since the Bureau of Meteorology’s sea surface temperature records began in 1900. 

PHOTO: Sea temperatures in February around the Great Barrier Reef were the warmest on record. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-15/cyclone-great-barrier-reef-bleaching-record-seas-temperatures/12050102

Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (CCRS JCU) Professor Terry Hughes said serious coral bleaching occurs when coral suffers heat stress due to spikes in sea temperatures caused by unusually hot summers. 

Aerial surveys of 1036 reefs (focusing on shallow water corals, down to five metres) showed a different pattern of bleaching within the GBRMP than from bleaching events in 2016 and 2017:-

https://images.theconversation.com/files/325593/original/file-20200406-74220-1axw6r6.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip

https://theconversation.com/we-just-spent-two-weeks-surveying-the-great-barrier-reef-what-we-saw-was-an-utter-tragedy-135197

The aerial surveys accurately record bleaching to only a five metre depth, and bleaching severity generally declines with increasing depth. www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/reef-health/coral-bleaching-101

Of the 1036 reefs surveyed

  • about 40%  had little or no bleaching and it is anticipated that most will recover,
  • about 25%  were severely (each reef >60%) bleached and
  • about 35%  were moderately bleached with responses dependent on history of disturbance.

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/news-room/latest-news/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2020/statement-aerial-surveys-on-the-great-barrier-reef 07/04/20 GBRMPAuthority Weekly Reef health update — 02 April 2020 http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/reef-health.

An aerial survey of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: AFP

An aerial survey of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: AFP

Professor Hughes said the distinctive footprint of each bleaching event has closely matched the location of hotter and cooler conditions in different years.  But it was difficult to make predictions about how much coral would die, as scientists had found corals were reacting differently after each marine heatwave. To know whether coral is surviving and recovering after bleaching or dying, water surveys are needed.

Professor Morgan Pratchett also from CCRS JCU, who leads the underwater surveys, noted that bleaching isn’t necessarily fatal as some species are affected more than others.  He will be assessing the losses of corals from this most recent event later in the year.  

With the five mass bleaching events (1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020) the number of reefs escaping severe bleaching continues to dwindle and the gap between recurrent bleaching events to shrink, hindering a full recovery. Hughes and Pratchett are concerned the Great Barrier Reef will continue to lose corals from heat stress, until global emissions of greenhouse gasses are reduced to net zero, and sea temperatures stabilise.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-15/cyclone-great-barrier-reef-bleaching-record-seas-temperatures/12050102https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/coral-bleaching-barriers-for-the-reef/news-story/3ea4d163fcc4445b1e3b37cf7bab90a6;https://www.jcu.edu.au/news/releases/2020/april/climate-change-triggers-great-barrier-reef-bleachinghttps://theconversation.com/we-just-spent-two-weeks-surveying-the-great-barrier-reef-what-we-saw-was-an-utter-tragedy-135197

The GBRMPA also urges that the strongest possible global efforts be made to reduce emissions and global warming as large scale marine heatwaves and associated coral bleaching events become more severe and frequent, and the Reef’s natural recovery processes are unable to keep up. Such action is needed in conjunction with their current programme protecting coral cover through crown-of-thorns starfish control, improved water quality, increased monitoring and effective Marine Park management, preventing illegal fishing, and developing potential new restoration and interventions that can occur within the Reef.

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/news-room/latest-news/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2020/statement-aerial-surveys-on-the-great-barrier-reef

Recently the Australian Government launched the research and development phase (initially $150million) of its Reef Restoration and Adaptation Science Program to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef in the face of rising ocean temperatures and coral bleaching and endorsed a two-year feasibility study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) into a range of science-based interventions.

This included: 

  • examining ways to collect and freeze coral larvae for use in year-round coral seeding,
  • seeding reefs with corals that are more resilient to heat to help coral reefs to evolve and adapt to the changing environment, 
  • developing technologies that increase the survival rate of coral larvae and that can produce and deploy large quantities of more resilient coral larvae,
  • an ambitious concept to shade and cool large areas of reef at risk of bleaching by spraying microscopic saltwater droplets into clouds to make them more reflective of sunlight (cloud brightening – see below) and
  • investigating methods to physically stabilise damaged reefs, after cyclone and bleaching events, to facilitate faster recovery.

https://minister.awe.gov.au/ley/media-releases/150-million-drive-innovations-boost-reef-resilience       16 April 2020https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/coral-bleaching-barriers-for-the-reef/news-story/3ea4d163fcc4445b1e3b37cf7bab90a6

Researchers at Southern Cross University and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science have trialled cloud brightening using a boat-mounted fan similar to a snow cannon to shoot salt crystals into the air and  have achieved promising results. To have a significant impact on the reef, a full-scale experiment would need to be 10 times larger, involving the use of several big barge-mounted turbines. The effectiveness of this cloud-brightening technique would drop significantly as the ocean warms further, hence would need to be used in conjunction with other systems. https://www.sciencealert.com/cloud-brightening-is-the-newest-experiment-to-protect-the-great-barrier-reef-from-warming

NCWQ Environment Report: November 2019

By Pat Pepper,NCWQ Environment Adviser

The Problem: Too much water or more often not enough is a perennial problem in Australia. Recently billions of megalitres (ML) of water flooded out to sea while major parts of southern Queensland, NSW, and South Australia remained in extreme drought. https://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/5907676/bradfield-scheme-remains-a-dream/15 Feb 2019 The situation remains dire for some regional areas. Will our extreme climate variability get worse with climate change?

In addition to being a waste, flood water pouring into the sea can cause environmental damage. e.g. Since 2014, many reefs in the northern, central and southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park have been affected by a range of disturbances, including freshwater flood plumes. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2019, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019: In Brief, GBRMPA, Townsville.

Regional towns are running out of water with dam levels dangerously low e.g. Current level and volume for Stanthorpe are 17% and 351 megalitres (ML) and, based on latest data and targeted usage, expected to run out in December 2019/January 2020. https://www.sdrc.qld.gov.au/living-here/water-wastewater/water-update  The drought is having a devastating effect on vineyards, fruit and vegetable crops in the area. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-20/stanthorpe-farmers-go-to-incredible-lengths-in-bushfires-drought/11616826

Drought is a significant issue for the Murray Darling Basin and continues to impact on its environment, industries and communities.

https://www.mdba.gov.au/managing-water/drought-murray-darling-basin/murray-darling-basin-drought-update

Significant fish deaths associated with low and cease-to- flows and pool stratification occurred in the Menindee lakes and the Lower Darling River below Weir 32 in 2018–19. ‘Commonwealth Environmental Water Portfolio Management Plan: Lower Murray-Darling 2019–20, Commonwealth of Australia, 2019’ Since the Barwon River in the northern Murray-Darling Basin had dried back to poor quality waterholes, threatening native fish, some water was released from Glenlyon Dam on 24 April and Copeton Dam on 2 May 2019. https://www.environment.gov.au/water/cewo/catchment/northern-fish-flow-2019

 

The effect of the drought is not just an environmental and regional and rural issue.  All Australians who value eating food produced in Australia because of the high standard of food health requirements here, could suffer if producers do not survive.

What can be done:

Bradfield Scheme:  In 1938 Dr John Bradfield, a Queensland born civil engineer and designer of the Sydney Harbour and Story Bridge, devised a visionary scheme aimed at drought proofing a vast area of inland Australia.  A wide variety of crops including rice, cotton, wheat and tree crops would be grown and feed for cattle and sheep produced. Water would be diverted using large pipes, tunnels, pumps and dams from the Tully, the Herbert and the Burdekin Rivers, across the Great Dividing Range into the Flinders and then the Thomson River and eventually into Lake Eyre.

Timbury F.R.V. (1944) The Battle for the Inland The Case for the Bradfield and Idriess  Plans  Appendix Utilizing Queensland’s Coastal Floodwaters in the Central and Western Districts Scheme iurlined by Dr J.J. C. Bradfield.

https://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/5907676/bradfield-scheme-remains-a-dream/15 Feb 2019 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradfield_Scheme

 

Criticisms included

  • elevation measurements were taken with a barometer leading to inaccuracies in land heights
  • methodology used to calculate flow estimates

However, since Bradfield’s time GPS readings and decades of accurate stream discharge records are now available.

In a Revised Bradfield’s Scheme – proposed diversion of the Upper Tully, Herbert and  Burdekin Rivers on to the Inland Plains of North and Central Queensland (1981), the above shortcomings were addressed.

A dam at Hell’s Gate was the most important feature of Bradfield’s Scheme. As a critic pointed out Bradfield had the elevation wrong and  water would not flow from the Burdekin at Hell’s Gate Dam Reservoir into the Flinders River. But the same critic proposed the answer to this problem with a diversion dam (1735 feet elevation) at a site on the Burdekin near Lake Lucy some 400 feet higher than the Hell’s Gate site. The Revised Bradfield Scheme” Queensland Northern Peninsula Area Water Resources sub-committee (1981) Dr Eric Heidecker, Roy Stainkey, and Bob Katter Jnr MLA.

 

While Bradfield’s proposal had water flowing to Lake Eyre where it was claimed that a full Lake Eyre would moderate the air temperature in the region by the absorption of sunlight by the water instead of heat radiation from dry land into the air. Hope et al. concluded  that there is no evidence that large-scale permanent water surfaces in inland Australia would result in widespread climate amelioration. Hope, P; N Nicholls; JL McGregor (2004). “The rainfall response to permanent inland water in Australia” Aust.Met.Mag 53.251-262.   The Revised Scheme did not advocate  the water running into Lake Eyre. The Revised Bradfield Scheme” Queensland Northern Peninsula Area Water Resources sub-committee (1981) Dr Eric Heidecker, Roy Stainkey, and Bob Katter Jnr MLA.

 Permission details CC BY-SA 4.0 view terms

File:Australia River systems Named.svg Created: ‎08‎ ‎April‎ ‎2019

 

NSW Proposals:  Consideration has been given to turning the headwaters of the Clarence inland via a network of pipes and pumps to feed it into headwaters of the Border rivers system. In addition the possibility of diverting flows from the Manning, Macleay and Hunter rivers inland has been considered . The capital cost of the four projects is estimated to be over $6bn. Concerns about the impact of diverting 7% to 10% of freshwater flows on prawn fisheries at the mouth of the Clarence would need addressing.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/24/nsw-secretly-exploring-long-dismissed-plan-to-turn-coastal-rivers-inland

Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme: Recently Sir Leo Hielscher and Sir Frank Moore have put forward an updated Bradfield Scheme which would open vast areas of Queensland  to high-value food and fibre production while creating renewable hydroelectric power and saving the Great Barrier Reef from pollution. They claim the concept is financially, socially, environmentally viable and engineering wise feasible. It requires establishing a Queensland Northern Rivers Authority (QNRA) similar to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority.  Some of the 91500 gigalitres (GL) available in North Eastern Queensland from South Johnstone, Hebert and Tully River would be captured and gravity fed to the Upper Burdekin River. Some tunnels less in length to those in Brisbane would be required. From a dam at Hell’s Gate, water would then be gravity fed to the fertile black-soil country west of Charters Towers to Richmond Downs. In Stage two surplus water from the Thomson River would be fed to the Warrego River which is the start of the Murray-Darling system.

 

They claim flooding would be mitigated in Innisfail, Tully and Ingham and contaminated water would be stopped from reaching the Great Barrier Reef. The Murray-Darling river system would never run dry, boosting the nation’s food security. The Murray Darling System holds 22700 GL , much less than the  91500  and 130500 gigalitres going into the ocean in NEQ and The Gulf of Carpentaria respectively. Overall cost is estimated to be 15 billion but there would be no capital cost to the Government. As a Statutory Body the QNRA would be empowered to raise its own funding with Government Guarantees. https://www.irrigationaustralia.com.au/news/knights-of-the-water-table-reboot-bradfield-scheme-in-grand-vision; https://www.4bc.com.au/it-will-work-multibillion-dollar-plan-to-open-up-northern-australia/ ; Alan Jones Breakfast Show –Interview with Sir Leo Hielscher  https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6015969400001 Peta Credlin – Interview with Sir Leo Hielscher and Des Houghton

Hell’s Gate Dam in North Queensland : A feasibility study undertaken on a $5.35 billion irrigated agricultural and power project on the upper Burdekin River found the project to be technically and economically feasible, with no major environmental barriers. The project comprises a 2110 GL dam, a pumped hydroelectric scheme of up to 1200 MW, a 20 MW solar farm and 15 MW run-of- river hyrdo facility at the toe of the dam and a pipeline from Hells Gate Dam to Ross River Dam. It would provide long-term water security for the region and supply water to a 50,000 hectare irrigated agriculture scheme and grow export industries. https://www.northqueenslandregister.com.au/story/5706266/hells-gate-dam-deemed-viable/ https://www.northqueenslandregister.com.au/story/6303388/hells-gate-dam-to-be-further-assessed/

The current plan for Hell’s Gate has a full supply level of only 372 m Australian Height Datum (AHD), Sir Leo Hielscher is proposing increasing the height of the proposed dam by 100m to 470m AHD, sufficient for the gravitational conveyance of water over the Great Dividing Range. https://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20241&page=2

Would it not be wise to increase the height in the initial build?

Under the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment program, CSIRO has conducted extensive feasibility studies identifying and evaluating surface and groundwater capture-and-storage options, providing detailed information on land suitability, identifying and testing the commercial viability of agriculture and aquaculture, and assessing potential environmental, social, indigenous and economic impacts and risks. Three catchments were identified

  • in the Fitzroy catchment, water harvesting (water pumped into ringtanks) could potentially support 160,000 ha growing one dry-season crop a year in 85 per cent of years. Independent of surface water, groundwater could potentially support up to 30,000 ha of hay production in all years
  • in the Darwin catchments, a combination of major dams, farm-scale offstream storage and groundwater could potentially support up to 90,000 ha of dry-season horticulture and mango trees
  • in the Mitchell catchment, large instream dams could potentially support 140,000 ha of year-round irrigation. Alternatively, water harvesting could potentially enable up to 200,000 ha, growing one dry-season crop per year.

https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Major-initiatives/Northern-Australia/Current-work/NAWRA With the expertise needed to conduct these extensive feasibility studies CSIRO should be well placed to investigate the feasibility of an Upgraded Bradfield Scheme to address the need for reliable water for regional communities and industries and the environment with the relevant Government Departments and Authorities.

The National Water Grid has been established by the Federal Government to plan and deliver reliable and cost effective water nationwide by:

  • investigating and establishing large-scale water diversion projects for farmers and regional communities by bringing together leading scientists to harvest and harness water in the most efficient and reliable way
  • developing a Water Grid that will provide the pipeline of all established, current and future water infrastructure projects and to identify any missing links.

http://www.mondaq.com/australia/x/812596/Water/Will+the+new+National+Water+Grid+achieve+its+aims Would the Moore-Hielscher Updated Bradfield Scheme be a good place to start investigating? Water Security throughout the country and in all sectors is vitally important.  Could the 91500GL flowing into the ocean from NEQ, 130500GL from the  Gulf of Carpentaria and 81200 GL from the Kimberly be better used producing food and fibre, creating renewable hydroelectric power,  relieving and invigorating the outback towns  and preserving the environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef and the Murray Darling Basin?

Since Bradfield first articulated his vision, variations of the scheme have been championed by politicians of both persuasions and reviews undertaken.  Has the time come for a bipartisan approach to adopting the concept to relieve inland communities and the environment?

 

NCWQ Environment Report: July 2019

By Pat Pepper,NCWQ Environment Adviser

Condition of Great Barrier Reef (GBR): The Australian Institute of Marine Science’s (AIMS) Annual GBR Condition Update report shows hard coral cover continued to decline in the central and southern GBR, while the northern GBR had stabilized. As AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program leader and ecologist Dr Mike Emslie notes there was substantial variation in the hard coral cover of individual reefs caused by disturbances such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones and coral bleaching events over the past five years. This affects the reefs’ ability to recover as the AIMS map shows.

Boundaries of Northern, Central and Southern GBR with the locations of the 64 reefs surveyed by manta tows between September 2018 and June 2019. Size and colour of the symbols represent the magnitude of the absolute annual change in reef-level percent hard coral cover between 2019 and the previous survey. https://www.aims.gov.au/reef-monitoring/gbr-condition-summary-2018-2019

The Capricorn-bunker group at the bottom of the Southern GBR continued to recover from Tropical Cyclone Hamish which struck in 2009. This area escaped bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, while the Swain Reefs suffered a devastating outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish which resulted in declines in average coral cover last year.

The inshore and mid-shelf reefs in the Central GBR were more severely impacted than the outer-shelf reefs by Tropical Cyclone Debbie (2017), resulting in low hard coral cover. Many Central GBR reefs have had outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, particularly in the Cairns, Innisfail and Townsville sectors, resulting in hard coral cover declining.

Recent declines in hard coral cover in Northern GBR reefs followed a sequence of disturbances after 2013, including cyclones, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and mass coral bleaching Low coral cover  in Reef 11-049 in the far north was attributed to the 2015/16 summer bleaching event. In the 2019 survey numbers of crown-of-thorns starfish were low. Coral bleaching was observed on some coral colonies. https://www.aims.gov.au/reef-monitoring/gbr-condition-summary-2018-2019 https://www.aims.gov.au/docs/media/latest-releases/-/asset_publisher/8Kfw/content/great-barrier-reef-gets-mixed-bill-of-health-in-annual-update

Impact of Climate Change on GBR: On 18 July 2019, the GBR Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) released its position statement on climate change: Climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the Reef. Further impacts can be minimised by limiting global temperature increase to the maximum extent possible and fast-tracking actions to build Reef resilience.

The predicted consequences of climate change are:-

  • increased sea temperature,
  • more intense storms, tropical cyclones and flood events,
  • ocean acidification,
  • rising sea level

Already more intense mass coral bleaching events have occurred

The GBRMPA advocates actions to:

  • reduce global greenhouse gas emissions,
  • reduce cumulative impacts on the GBR,
  • build GBR resilience and protect key species for reef recovery,
  • enable adaptations and restorations of reef habitats

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/our-work/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change

GBRMPA – Position Statement – Climate change GBRMPA Document No: 100486 Revision: 0 Date: 25-Jun-2019

Shipping Risk to GBR: More than 9,600 ship voyages were recorded in the Reef between 2012 and 2013, http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/handle/11017/2855 From January to November 2017 there were 10403 of which 2835 were bulk carriers.

Great Barrier Reef  and Torres Straits Shipping Statistics Queensland Government November 2017

Many of the ships are foreign-flagged operating under the rules of the country where they are registered, which are not necessarily of the same standard as Australian rules. In three decades the national merchant fleet has shrunk from about 100 to 14. The risk is illustrated by the grounding in 2010 of the Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng I on a shoal of the GBR just north of the port of Gladstone, spilling oil and damaging more than 40 hectares of marine park over 10 days. :After years of court battles, restoration work is only now about to start on the reef //theconversation.com/how-flags-of-convenience-have-shrunk-australias-merchant-fleet-115059

The owners of Shen Neng 1 agreed to pay $35 million to the FG for the cost of removing polluted rubble and a further $4.3 million to cover costs incurred by FG in the immediate aftermath of the grounding.  The FG had sought 120 million in damages. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-19/shen-neng-1-owners-to-pay-39-million-over-barrier-reef-grounding/785895

In October 2014 the North-East Shipping Management Plan was published. Among the many recommended actions, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is to maintain a pollution response reserve of $10 million and line of credit of $40 million to ensure immediate access to funds in the event of a marine pollution incident. The North East Shipping Management Plan Work Program Status report as at January 2018 shows this as achieved. Action has been taken on other items e.g. GBRMPA and AMSA are to explore mechanisms to fund high priority restoration and rehabilitation of reef habitats (and the removal of antifoulant paints) immediately following a ship grounding. (AIMS, AMSA and GBRMPA are collaborating on a research project to identify the impacts and priorities of emerging contaminants in the GBR)

 

GBRMPA is to instigate research into

  • ship-sourced copper leaching from antifouling paints at GBR port anchorage sites to determine if this is an identifiable risk to the values of the GBR . (The International Maritime Organisation (IMO ) has agreed a new output to amend Annex 1 to the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (AFS Convention) to include controls on cybutryne. Australia supported further discussing the possibility of adding Cybutryne to the AFS Convention. The amendments are scheduled to be considered by the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee for adoption in mid-2018.)
  • the restoration of habitats affected by shipping incidents (e.g. coral and seagrass restoration, eradication of marine pests, halt impacts from biocides) –(The Shen Neng 1 trial clean-up is to be used as research into the restoration of habitats. Piper reef can also be used as an example. ).

 

However, does the report on the action –“AMSA to ensure that only high quality ships, operated by competent crews, are permitted to trade in the region by stringently enforcing standards in compliance with IMO guidelines for port State control.  (Ongoing port State control inspections ensure that foreign flag ships are seaworthy, not a pollution risk, provide a healthy and safe working environment and comply with relevant conventions. In addition, AMSA routinely updates its ship risk algorithm to improve targeting for ship inspections, incident recording, case management and trend analysis. )” instil confidence?

(amsa439-north-east-shipping-management-plan.pd; North East Shipping Management Plan Work Program

Status report as at January 2018.pdf

 

Australian researchers have raised fresh concerns that a major shipping disaster could harm the GBR, with new research revealing coal dust in seawater can kill corals and slow down the growth rate of seagrasses and fish. Berry, K. L. E. et al. Simulated coal spill causes mortality and growth inhibition in tropical marine organisms. Sci. Rep. 6, 25894; doi: 10.1038/srep25894 (2016)

 

Quality of Coal in Galilee Basin: Australia’s coal had traditionally been of a higher energy value, and therefore higher quality than that of other countries, with lower levels of sulphur, moisture, arsenic (As), boron (B), mercury (Hg) and selenium (Se) and producing fewer emissions per unit of electricity produced.

australia-high-coal-quality-mca.pdf

However the new coal mines being developed in the Galilee Basin in Queensland would produce lower energy coal than that exported in the past, which is probably why it’s never been taken before. Adani’s Carmichael mine in the north Galilee Basin is expected to produce coal with an energy value of 4,950 kcal and 25 per cent raw ash. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-27/fact-check-is-australias-export-coal-cleaner/6952190pdated 3 Mar 2016, Would the inferior coal be better left in the ground?

 

 

 

NCWQ Environment Report: May 2019

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on the impact of Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin: In previous reports and submissions to Government, concerns have been raised about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine. Theseincluded

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas;
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin;
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss;
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point and
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

NCWQ submissions on impact of Carmichael Coal Mine;  impact of expansion of ports on the GBR environs; dredging and disposal of dredged material at Abbot Point; Galilee Coal Project at Bimblebox Nature Refuge

 

Details of objections to the granting of the mining lease and the environmental authority, the judicial review of the environmental authority and litigation against the mine involving native title have been detailed in previous reports. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;  http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

As reported previously the initial proposal to extract up to 60 million tonnes per annum of coal for 150 years from an estimated coal resource of 8.3 billion tonnes was reduced to a project lifetime to 60 yearswith estimated total production of2.3 billion tonnesof thermal coal. The originally proposal was for a new 189km rail line to the Port of Abbot Pointfor export principally to India to be burnt for electricity production, and for expanded capacity of the Port of Abbot. Subsequently, proposed port expansion has been reduced in size and the decision made to use the existing rail line for the initial stage of the project.

However the proposed mine would still be one of the largest coal mines in the worldand the mining and burning of coal from would generate an estimated 4.7 billion tonnesof greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to climate change, one of the major impacts of the mine is on groundwater. http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

Groundwatermodels aim to determine the likely effect of mining on groundwater levels and flows of water to and from key areas. If the groundwater levels decline below thresholdscritical to the function of whole ecosystems, such as the Doongmabulla Springs, irreversible harm can occur. Groundwater models can also be used to assess changes in flows of water to and from springs and streams, such as the Carmichael River, which crosses the mine site.

In late 2018 and early 2019 CSIRO and Geoscience Australia(GA) wrote two reports for the Federal Government on specific questions on groundwater monitoring, management and modelling planned by Adani Pty Ltd for its Carmichael mine proposal.

Their review pointed out three major flaws:-

  1. Over-prediction of flow from the Carmichael River into the aquifers below.
  2. Hydraulic conductivity values used in the model were significantly different from the values estimated by previous testing of the geological layers at the mine site.
  3. Bore heights used to calibrate the model were incorrect

If the model is corrected to address these flaws, the review points out that the drawdown at the Doongmabulla Springs will in all likelihood be higher than required under Adani’s federal approval conditions.

In addition which underground aquifers feed Doongmabulla Springs has not been identified.Substantive corrective measures for reversing future spring-flow impacts from mining have not been defined

Unless Adani puts forward its plan for dealing with these very real risks, regulators cannot hope to make an informed decision about the risk the mine poses to the Doongmabulla Springs.https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2019/Statement-on-Adani-Carmichael-proposalhttps://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-flaws-in-adanis-water-management-plan-116161

Adani’s groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan(GDEMP) for its proposed Carmichael coal mine was recently approved by Federal Environment Minister after the company made commitments to fully address these issues. However, there is serious concern whether the company can or will address these issues.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-17/adani-water-management-plan-criticised-by-csiro/10625228https://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-flaws-in-adanis-water-management-plan-116161

A January 2019 analysis by EDO Qldof the latest version of Adani’s Black-throated Finch Species Management Plan showed the company had gone backwards in its commitments to the endangered species, reducing its proposed offset area by more than 2000 hectares compared to previous versions of its plan.https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project11 March, 2019

The Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan and the Black Throated Finch Management Plan still need to be approved by the Queensland Government before significant disturbance can commence at the Carmichael Coal Mine.

Water licences: As reported previouslyCarmichael coal mine has been granted an unlimited 60-year water licence. Water pressure is an issue with flows from artesian bores now roughly half what they were in 1915. Since then, the water level in some bores has fallen by as much as 80 metres, and a third of bores have stopped flowing altogether. This directly affects the human, plant and animal communities that rely on artesian water. https://theconversation.com/why-does-the-carmichael-coal-mine-need-to-use-so-much-water-75923 April 13, 2017. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;  http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

EDO QLD are currently taking the Federal Government to court, acting on behalf of Australian Conservation Foundation, over the Government’s decision to allow Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme to proceed without an assessment of its impacts on precious water resources. The scheme involves a 61 km pipeline for Adani to extract and pump up to 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor river.

Adani was granted their associated water licence and surface water licence for the Carmichael Mine on 29 March 2017. https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project11 March, 2019

History of offences:Previously reported  allegations of Adani’s environmental offences in India include causing salinity in water supplies, the illegal destruction of mangroves and sand dunes and the blocking and filling of creeks. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/emails-reveal-officials-probing-environmental-and-financial-concerns-with-adani-supermine-20171102-gzdc5h.htmlReport_Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia. The Adani Groups Global Environmental Record_29 Oct 2015.pdf

The Queensland Government is investigating whether Adani has breached its environmental licence for the second time in two years with the release of coal-laden floodwaters from its coal port at Abbot Point in the state’s north.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-13/adani-facing-government-probe-abbot-point-wetland-release/10805206

With high definition satellite imagery, drone footage, public bore registers, and on-the-ground observations and photography,  EDO Qld and their client, Coast and Country, have delivered evidence to the Queensland Government that Adani has broken the law by clearing land, building roads, and commencing dewatering operations without the correct approvals in place.https://www.edoqld.org.au/evidence_supports_the_case_adani_broken_the_law30 December, 2018; https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project,https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project

Jobs:Initially 10,000 direct and indirect jobs peaking from 2024 with $22 billion in taxes and royalties were predicted. In court in 2015, the company economics expert instead said it would create an extra 1,464 jobs in Australia — 1,206 of them in Queensland — and generate $16.8 billion in taxes and royalties.

While the revised mine plan could be less than a quarter of its original scale, Adani has not publicly put forward a new projection for jobs or tax and royalty streams. It is yet to reach a final deal with the State Government on how its royalty payments might be deferred in the mine’s first five years.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-26/what-we-know-about-adanis-carmichael-coal-mine-project/11049938

It would seem prudent to delay the commencement of the project given the advice from CSIRO and the company’s poor record of environmental management in Indiaand Australia until these issues are addressed.

Environment Report, September 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Waste:  Australians are generating around 64 million tonnes of waste every year. This could cause health and environmental problems. To combat this problem the Federal and State Governments are updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources to provide a national framework for improving Australian waste management.  A circular economy is promoted in the discussion paper with five principles that underpin waste management, recycling and resource recovery: Discussion paper Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources September 2018   In this report which forms the basis of feedback to the Government, these principles and strategies are discussed.

.

  • Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources. Representation of a Circular Economy as it applies to resource use (reproduced by Department of the Environment and Energy with permission of the European Union)

Principle 1. Avoid waste  (National target 10% by 2030; Food Waste target  50% by 2030, problematic plastics by 2030))-

  • prioritise waste avoidance, encourage efficient use, reuse and repair
  • design products so waste is minimised, they are made to last and materials are more easily recoverable

 

Given the differences in % wastage of the various materials, it would appear advisable to encourage those industries which generate and use materials which can detrimentally affect health and the environment to have specific targets.  e.g. as well as plastics, fly ash and hazardous waste

 

 

 

Waste generation and fate by material category, Australia 2014-15

‘Masonry mat.’ means masonry material; ‘c’board’ means cardboard; ‘Hazwaste’ means hazardous waste; ‘En recovery’ means energy recovery. The stated percentages are the resource recovery rates = (energy recovery + recycling) / generation. Australian National Waste Report 2016

 

Designing systems and products that increase a product’s lifecycle including disassembly and repair is very important.  However the long term degradability of the material should be considered also.  For example plastic can break down into microplastics which could act as an agent for the transfer of many fat-soluble pollutants, such as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds, from the environment and into organisms such as fish. Lusher, A.L.; Hollman, P.C.H.; Mendoza-Hill, J.J. 2017.Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. No. 615. Rome, Italy.

 

Principle 2. Improve resource recovery (80% from all resource recovery streams by 2030)

  • improve material collection systems and processes for recycling
  • improve the quality of recycled material we produce

 

While packaging is essential to protect the integrity and security of products, single use packaging can make a substantial contribution to waste.  In their Australian Packaging Covenant Strategic Plan (2017-2022), the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) aims by 2022 to have

  • developed proven viable approaches to remove 50% of current problem packaging types or materials including soft plastics, takeaway coffee cups and expanded polystyrene from the waste stream with 90% of its members actively participated in closed loop collaboration of circular economies.
  • delivered a packaging Recycling/Disposal Labelling Scheme in market covering 85% of packaging; and the collective efforts of APCO members will have resulted in a decrease in labelled recyclable packaging going to landfill , and have reduced single-use Business to Business packaging, as a proportion of turnover, by 30%, based on 2017 reported levels.Australian Packaging Covenant Strategic Plan 2017 – 2022

Does APCO membership cover the majority of firms in the packaging supply chain?  Perhaps membership could be extended to businesses in the packaging supply chain with less than an annual turnover of $AUD5 million.  Packaging on imported products must be a contributing factor to waste.

 

The current review of the Product Stewardship Act of 2011 should determine whether the Voluntary accreditation of product stewardship arrangements and the Co‐regulatory product stewardship schemes delivered by industry and regulated by the Australian Government are effective.  And it should be clear whether Mandatory product stewardship schemes are needed to label products, to make arrangements for recycling products at end of life, or require a deposit and refund to be applied to a product, or ban certain substances or materials from use in products. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/consultations/79a39335-ee07-4f94-ab7f-cd8323641af0/files/ps-act-review-consultation-paper.pdf

 

Having different bins for each type of waste would be advantageous.  It should not be necessary for every householder to have every bin, provided depots are conveniently located.  For example, in Kamikatsu, Japan, the population of about 1,500 take their rubbish to the recycling centre and sort it into 45 different categories.  Volunteers collect the rubbish of the elderly once a month.  Food scraps are mostly composted and more than 80% of the town’s other waste is now recycled.  The remaining 20% that can’t currently be processed — things like nappies and certain types of plastics — get sent off to be incinerated.  By 2020 the town aims to be waste free.  The sheer inconvenience of having to take one’s rubbish to the recycling centre also acts as a deterrent to excess consumption in the first place..http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-20/kamikatsu-the-japanese-town-with-45-different-recycling-bins/9776560

Photo: Kamikatsu’s waste station manager, Kazuyuki Kiyohara.  Photo: Kamikatsu residents bring their waste to the recycling plant. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)

 

Principle 3. Increase use of recycled material and build demand and markets for recycled products

The importance of commonly accepted working definitions of what constitutes recyclable, compostable or reusable across the States and Territories is crucial for success.  At present these differ by State and Territory.  The milestone of having national standards and specifications for high priority recycled materials or applications in place by 2020 should start to address this.

Unless there is a strong domestic market for recyclable materials all the effort of collecting and sorting will be in vain.  For example, the lack of market for recycled plastic appears to have been a disincentive.  One recycling business which turns soft plastics such as milk cartons and squeezable shampoo bottles into sturdy plastic play equipment, termite-proof boardwalk decking and bollards, processes about a third of what it has the capacity to.  This firm with at least one other only accepts plastic waste from organisations willing to buy back the recycled products. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/22/recycling-in-australia-is-dead-in-the-water-three-companies-tackling-our-plastic-addiction.  Increased awareness of the waste problems and participation in recycling by organisations and the public is needed.  The current ABC TV series may help.

Converting plastic waste to fuel has potential.  Geyer et al note the vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons.  None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable so they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment.  The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment, such as combustion or pyrolysis. Geyer, Jambeck, Law Sci. Adv. 2017;3: e1700782; (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782)  Some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene and polypropylene are more suitable than others for using this technology. https://insteading.com/blog/plastic-to-fuel   A commercial scale facility capable of converting waste plastics to fuel at a rate of 50 feedstock tonnes per day was commissioned in NSW by Integrated Green Energy (IGE) with Foyson Resources using a catalytic restructuring process. http://plasticpyrolysisplants.com/50-tpd-plastics-to-diesel-plant-produces-first-batch-in-australia/  A plant was also planned to be built at Hume in the ACT.  The company claimed their technology removed ash, dealt with hydrocarbon contaminants, and used waste gas for heating to burn off gas at a high enough temperature to destroy noxious compounds. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/foy-group-walks-away-from-plasticstofuel-plant-in-hume-20180114-h0i0qw.html  An independent panel reported the company’s environmental impact statement failed to sufficiently address key risks, including the risk of explosions, the potential damage to surrounding land, and the effects on air quality.  They also recommended ACT should have a “proof of performance” requirement.  Hence the plan was shelved. https://the-riotact.com/foys-planned-oil-refinery-has-hit-a-major-obstacle/202920   Could these problems have been addressed? Maybe, given the waste disposal problem exasperated by China’s ban on imported solid waste, the need for sustainable continuous energy supply and that Australia only has 48 days aggregated fuel reserves, the limitation on resin type to be used in waste to energy plants should be reconsidered.

 

Principle 4. Better manage material flows to benefit human health, the environment and the economy

Although the megatonnes of organic waste is much greater than that of plastic and hazardous waste the latter two pose a greater threat or risk to public health, safety or to the environment.

 

Recycled plastics aren’t able to continually serve the same purpose after recycling.  The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces volatile organic compounds that can harm plant and animal life including humans near the industrial site if not carefully controlled.  Plastic is manufactured from petroleum and this substance can leech into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.  Plastic manufacturers only use a small portion of recycled plastic, if any, when producing food containers and packaging.  Because of the potential health threats recycled plastic poses, much plastic recycling is actually down-cycling e.g. a plastic water bottle may be down-cycled to become artificial turf or plastic furniture.https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html   Hence, the aim of the National Waste Policy to phase out problematic and unnecessary plastics is strongly supported.

There are many reasons to support the target of the National Food Waste Strategy of halving the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030, not least to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting food waste from landfill, but also to make better use of resources such as land, water, energy and fuel to produce and distribute food.  Innovative Australian Food waste solutions such as turning imperfect-looking vegetables and fruit into other products and identifying most cost-effective transport option from farm through to processor, storage facility or manufacturer, through to retailers and export ports should help.. The National Food Waste Strategy.

Principle 5. Improve information to support innovation, guide investment and enable informed consumer decisions.

Baseline data being collected and referred to in National Waste Policy and the National Food Waste Strategy as well as data on hazardous materials in Hazardous Waste in Australia 2017 are essential information.  Should not national strategies such as National Waste Policy and the National Food Waste Strategy be developed for other materials, in particular hazardous waste and plastics, under the auspices of the Department of the Environment?

 

Recently, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES), announced a joint venture agreement with the Chinese Crown World Holdings to construct a waste plastic-to-fuel facility in Weifang in Shandon Province of China.  The facility will have an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per day, producing 70 million litres of road-ready fuels per annum.  IGES’s patented plastic-to-fuel process is claimed by the company to reduce the environmental impacts of waste plastic, that would otherwise be used in landfills or discarded into the environment. .http://www.manmonthly.com.au/news/australian-company-convert-chinas-waste-plastics-fuel/

This followed the shelving of the plastic to fuel facility in Hume.  It is regrettable the expertise could not be kept and exploited in Australia.  Strategies to support innovation and research and development in waste management and recycling, and support creating and maintaining markets for recycled materials are crucial.

Download the full report with graphics, here.

Environment Report, November 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report:  Under the Paris Agreement 197 nations agreed to reduce global warming emissions and limit the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C relative to 1850-1900, with an aspirational 1.5°C target to avoid dangerous climate effects such as sea level rise, extreme weather and droughts.  If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2℃ per decade, the 1.5℃ increase is likely around 2040. Impacts are already being felt around the world, with declines in crop yields, biodiversity, coral reefs, and Arctic sea ice, and increases in heatwaves and heavy rainfall.  Communities and ecosystems around the world have already suffered significant impacts from the 1℃ of warming so far, and the effects at 1.5℃ will be harsher still. Small island states, deltas and low-lying coasts are at risk of increased flooding, and threats to freshwater supplies, infrastructure, and livelihoods.  Warming to 1.5℃ also poses a risk to global economic growth, with the tropics and southern subtropics potentially being hit hardest. https://theconversation.com/new-un-report-outlines-urgent-transformational-change-needed-to-hold-global-warming-to-1-5-c-103237 October 8, 2018 Mark Howden & Rebecca Colvin ANU  ; NCWA Hot Habitats2018 Report Wendy Rainbird

The IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) illustrates climate-related risks are higher for global warming of 1.5°C than at present, but lower than at 2°C.  These risks depend on the magnitude and rate of warming, geographic location, levels of development and vulnerability, and on the choices and implementation of adaptation and mitigation options

e.g. coral reefs, heat waves, vulnerability, global scale disintegration, biodiversity  flooding, exposure, degradation of ice sheets, hot spots, monetary damage.

Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic.  Warming is generally higher over land than over the ocean.sr15_spm_final.pdf; https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/climate/unprecedented-changes-in-all-aspects-of-society-needed-to-meet-global-warming-target-ipcc-report/news-story/ecd1791a8d0cc99960525715ad9e0dc7

To limit warming to 1.5℃, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050.  However current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a 3℃ temperature limit, let alone 1.5℃.  Many economists advocate putting a price on emissions to do this.  https://theconversation.com/new-un-report-outlines-urgent-transformational-change-needed-to-hold-global-warming-to-1-5-c-103237 October 8, 2018 Mark Howden & Rebecca Colvin ANU 

The argument against carbon tax has been put that for many countries a carbon tax it would have no detectable impact on global temperatures or climate but impose financial disadvantage.  In the U.S. which has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, coal-fired generation fell from 2,000 TWh in 2007 to 1,200 TWh in 2017 – without a carbon tax. Three decades ago, coal-fired power plants produced 38 percent of the world’s electricity or about 3,700 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year.  It was over 9,700 TWh in 2017.  In 2017, U.S. carbon emissions were around 5,100 billion metric tons from all sources, an almost 20 percent drop below emissions in 2007.

In contrast, world carbon emissions have kept increasing: by an average of more than 300 gigatons each year for the last decade, driven primarily by China’s and India’s increasing demand for energy.  The USA questions whether it should burden itself with a carbon tax when its competitors do not.  https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/413394-flaw-in-un-climate-report-china-india-will-never-impose-carbon-tax

https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html#.W9a8js8Uncs

Similarly, some Australians are questioning why Australia which only contributes about 1% of global dioxide emissions should phase out fossil fuels.  They claim the only way to have reliable baseload power is through coal and gas.  While the traditional approach of steady, constant ‘baseload’ generation from coal augmented by flexible, dynamic ‘peaking’ generation from gas is one way of ensuring reliable electricity supply, today there are alternatives to this model.  These systems have:

In addition to the environment issues there are other issues to consider.  Small island states like Marshall Islands (an Australia’s neighbour) were pivotal in the inclusion of the 1.5°C goal.  Increasing warming amplifies the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas to the risks associated with sea level rise for many human and ecological systems, including increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure (high confidence).  Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences of global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods (high confidence). sr15_spm_final.pdf  International cooperation is paramount.

 

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel , recommends working towards zero-emissions while maximising Australia’s economic growth.  This will require an orderly transition to be managed over several decades.  An alternative to fossil fuels could be hydrogen since Australia has the resources to produce clean hydrogen for the global market at a competitive price, on either of the two viable pathways: splitting water using solar and wind electricity, or deriving hydrogen from natural gas and coal in combination with carbon capture and sequestration.  Building an export hydrogen industry will be a major undertaking. But it will also bring jobs and infrastructure development, largely in regional communities, for decades https://theconversation.com/the-science-is-clear-we-have-to-start-creating-our-low-carbon-future-today-104774

 

Update on the impact of plastic on the environment and health: Previously I have reported that packaging was the major source of plastic waste with 40% ending up in landfill and 32% as litter in the environment.  Four to 12 million tonnes of plastics leaked into the oceans in one year.  NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, May 2018); The plastics industry is highly reliant on finite stocks of oil and gas, which make up more than 90% of its feedstock. Four to eight % of the world’s oil production is used to make plastics with roughly half of this is used as material process.  Considerable greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the production and sometimes the after-use pathway of plastics.  In 2012, these emissions amounted to approximately 390 million tonnes of CO2 for all plastics.  Thus the circular economy which aims to conserve resources, reduce pollution and promote efficiency would appear highly relevant to the plastic industry.

 

World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics(2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications)..

 

The potential health threats of plastics have previously been reported.  Supporting information for submissions on micro and nano plastics from NCWA & NCWQ Environment Adviser,  NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, May 2018,September2018);Phthalates  is used as plasticizers to convert polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from a hard plastic to a flexible plastic. PVC is a widely used material, including extensive use in toys and other children’s products such as chewy teethers, soft figures and inflatable toys. Phthalates can be released from soft PVC by surface contact, especially where mechanical pressure is applied e.g. during chewing of a PVC teether.  Phthalates are also used as additives in ink, perfumes etc. Neeti Rustagi, S. K. Pradhan,1 and Ritesh Singh Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Sep-Dec; 15(3): 100–103

In the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), USA Congress permanently prohibited children’s toys or child care articles containing concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of three types of phthalates: di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP); dibutyl phthalate (DBP); or, benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). The CPSIA also established an interim prohibition on children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care articles that contain concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), or di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP), On October 27, 2017, the Commission issued a final phthalates rule (16 CFR part 1307) effective April 25, 2018 making the interim prohibition on DINP permanent in addition to similar prohibition of diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), Di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP). but lifting the interim prohibition on DIDP and DNOB. The rule applies to products manufactured or imported on or after April 25, 2018. https://www.cpsc.gov/Business–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/Phthalates-Information

From 2 March 2010, certain children’s plastic products that contain, or have a component

that contains, more than 1 per cent by weight DEHP, are intended for use by children up to

and including 36 months of age and can readily be sucked and/or chewed were banned from

supply in Australia.  SupplierGuide-Children’s plastic products with more than 1percent diethylhexyl phthalate.pdf Should Australia be concerned about the other phthalates which have more than 0.1 percent in children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care articles and which the USA have banned?

 

To address public concern about chemicals migrating from packaging into food FSANZ undertook a project to assess whether there were any unmanaged risks from packaging chemicals migrating into food.  FSANZ has determined that estimated dietary exposure to these chemicals is low and not of concern for human health.  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/foodpackaging/Pages/default.aspx

 

There has been an ongoing dispute about Bisphenol A (BPA) in the literature.  Several epidemiological studies and controlled animal (mainly rodent) experiments found associations between exposure to plastic compounds such as BPA and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate DEHP and destructive effects on health and reproduction, such as early sexual maturation, decreased male fertility, aggressive behavior. Halden Rolf U., Plastics and Public Health  Ann . Rev. Public Health 2010. 31:179–94.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of polycarbonate plastics made from BPA in baby bottles.  Canada and the European Union followed suit. . However FDA’s current perspective, based on its most recent safety assessment, is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm064437.htm#summaryr

 

In June 2010, the Australian Government announced the voluntary phase-out by major Australian retailers of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles containing BPA.  This was reported to be in response to consumer preference and demand and not an issue about product safety.  In 2016 Food Standards Australia New Zealand  (FSANZ) published the 2nd phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study, which screened food for packaging chemicals.  BPA wasn’t found at all in many samples and where it was detected levels were well below safety level.  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/pages/default.aspx

With regard to the several epidemiology studies where apparent associations between BPA exposure and adverse health effects. The FSANZ found that none of these studies had demonstrated a causal link between BPA and adverse effects in humans. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/Pages/bpa-response-to-studies.aspx Despite the occurrence being below critical threshold values in many cases, exceedances in certain susceptible populations, such as pregnant women and children, are known to occur in some instances.  If BPA and DEHP have endocrine-disrupting properties, there is cause for concern.  Halden Rolf U., Plastics and Public Health  Annu. Rev. Public Health 2010. 31:179–94

Surely it is safer to err on the side of precaution?

 

Download the full PDF with graphics here.

 

Environment, Annual Report 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

A range of environmental issues was researched and reported on during the year. Major issues included the impact of marine debris, micro and nano-plastics on the coastal and marine environment, and the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin.  Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

 

Impact of micro and nanoplastics:  In October 2015, the National Council of Women of Australia (NCWA) raised concerns with the Federal Government (FG) about the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef, and whether toxins incorporated during manufacture or absorbed from the environment onto microplastics, were transferred to marine organisms and potentially up the food chain.  Since that time further research confirmed micro and nanoplastics contribute significantly to marine and coastal pollution and if ingested or inhaled, may transfer from the lungs and guts of organisms to their cells and tissues.  In addition, micro fibres have been found present in the air and contaminating tap water across the world.  Hence another submission was made urging the FG:

  • To support legislation to be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in December, 2017 and aimed at combating marine plastic waste and microplastics.
  • To support research and monitoring programs on the impact of micro- and nanoplastics
  • To undertake cost-effective ecological and seafood safety risk assessments on micro- and nanoplastics and associated polymers, to reduce plastic use and encourage the use of alternative materials, recycling and the adoption of sustainable practices in using plastics and managing plastic pollution.

A similar submission was submitted to the Queensland Government (QG).

 

Marine Debris:  The FG is to be congratulated on its initiatives in addressing the global problem of marine debris, especially the development of the 2017 Threat Abatement Plan.  It was pleasing to read that at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the Australian delegate moved a draft resolution to address marine litter and microplastics and facilitated the final resolution being passed.  It is unfortunate resolutions are non-binding.  But as there appeared to be much common ground between the UN declaration and Australia’s Threat Abatement Plan, one wonders why Australia has not supported the United Nations Cleanseas campaign.

A submission was prepared urging the FG:

  • to legislate appropriate measures rather than rely on industry to voluntarily reduce pollution;
  • use the UN Environment platform to argue for countries to take responsibility of the marine waste originating in their country;
  • support research and development programs into recycling plastic; and
  • investigate opportunities to partner with overseas aid organisations, community organisations and schools to tackle existing plastic debris perhaps using the plastic to fuel converters, both the small scale and commercial depending on the situation.

 

Plastic Waste:  The production and fate of the various resins and the potential environmental and health issues have been researched together with strategies to combat the resulting plastic waste.  The FG is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments for 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025, but in order to reach this target and address the plastic waste being stockpiled or becoming landfill more measures need to be taken.  A resolution has been submitted to the NCWA Conference in October 2018 urging the Government to develop policies which encouraging new or different packaging material, the participation of the public in sorting their plastic waste by resin type, the development and expansion of businesses converting plastic waste to a useful product in a manner which safeguards human health and the environment.

 

Impact of Carmichael Coal Mine:  In a submission to the FG, the NCWA raised concerns about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine.  These included:

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas,
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin.
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss.
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point.
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Hence, the NCWA urged the FG to:

  • Consider the merits of the court cases with respect to groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts rather than just legality;
  • Reconsider the granting of critical infrastructure status and an unlimited 60-year water licence;
  • Insist that the greenhouse gases from the coal exported to India be accounted for in an environment impact statement; and
  • Reconsider the granting of a tax payer funded loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to a private multinational company.

A similar submission was submitted to the QG.

 

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au