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NZ cannot afford to be complacent over quality water

NZ cannot afford to be complacent over quality water, UC expert says

July 1, 2013

While New Zealand may have abundant water resources, the world is facing a tremendous water shortage which is worsening with time.

With the world’s population growing by about 80 million people a year, the demand for freshwater increases at a staggering rate of 64 million cubic metres a year.

Access to safe water is as important as its quantity, University of Canterbury (UC) water expert and civil and natural resources engineer Dr Ricardo Bello-Mendoza says.

``Protecting the quality of New Zealand’s water is utterly important. This is a big challenge that must be addressed through change in attitudes.

``My research at UC aims to provide solutions by developing innovative technology for more effective and sustainable wastewater treatment. I am looking at how we can remove contaminants from water and, at the same time, recover nutrients or energy.

``I will look at what happens to micro-pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals, during wastewater treatment and what is the best way to re-use treated wastewater without causing harm to our environment.’’

Dr Bello-Mendoza says global competition for water exists and there are increasing reports of conflicts over water in many countries.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has an abundance of high-quality water. It is estimated that the internal renewable freshwater resources per capita is more than 32,000 cubic metres. This is extremely high compared to other regions in the world, such as North Africa and South Asia, where the availability of water is around 286 and 1125 cubic metres per person, respectively.

``We cannot afford to be complacent. There are often events of water scarcity in some regions, like the West Coast.

``Global climate change adds uncertainty and increased risk to the availability of water resources over time as rain regimes change bringing sometimes droughts and sometimes floods.

``Up to 75 percent of New Zealand freshwater is used in agriculture and farming. As the production of food is being compromised by the scarcity of water in many regions of the world, New Zealand has an opportunity to sustain an increased production of food products to supply that demand.

``However, we must be careful that enhanced primary productivity does not come at a cost for our water resources. Activities such as farming and mining can respectively release nutrients and persistent pollutants and contaminate the water bodies if appropriate measures are not taken to prevent it.

``Even though New Zealand has abundant water resources, exporting water is impractical and expensive. We can, however, produce technology and know-how to help alleviate the global problem of water scarcity,’’ Dr Bello-Mendoza says.

 
Photos: Dr Ricardo Bello-Mendoza

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