Humans have been interested in water sources since they first crossed the African savannah, but a perfect storm of population growth and climate change is focusing the minds of the world’s best and brightest on the field of hydrogeology like never before.
“In 2018, Cape Town almost reached ‘Day Zero’ – that is, its taps running dry – and may yet experience it in 2019,” says Professor Craig Simmons, who worries that Australia is also sleepwalking into a future water crisis of its own making. And there are plenty of other global cities, including Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, London, Mexico City, and Miami, that are also facing the possibility of similar scenarios.
In the coming decades, Australia’s population is projected to increase by about 60%, reaching 36 million by 2050. This, “at a time when large swathes of Australia will be becoming drier,” Professor Simmons explains.
“People don’t believe that any Australian city will have a Day Zero,” he says. “I’m not so sure. Granted, Australia currently has plenty of groundwater, but water in the ground is like money in the bank – if you have more going out than coming in, you’ll eventually end up in trouble.”
As the Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Hydrogeology at Flinders University and Director of the Flinders-headquartered National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT), Professor Simmons is no alarmist. He’s devoted his career to trying to ensure that the parched dystopias that feature in sci-fi films never actually eventuate.
He says if dams run dry, water can be sourced elsewhere. Seawater can be desalinated, wastewater recycled, and groundwater pumped to the surface. Of course, when tapping into aquifers, or engaging in activities near them, there’s always the possibility of exhausting or poisoning them.
That’s where the Australian Groundwater Modelling Guidelines (AGWMG) come in.