The balance between dust control in Australia and water resources is often at the pinnacle of conflict in a water-scarce Australia, to make matters worse the recurring drought and raging summer weather makes finding common solutions difficult. The effects are felt more in the arid areas of Australia and unfortunately economic activities such as mining predominantly use water for dust control. Ten years ago, in the Pilbara region in one particular month up to 70% of the region’s water was utilized in mining activities with up to 50% of the water in Harding Dam expended for iron ore stockpile dust control at the ports. The disparity between use of water for mining activities and that which is available for fresh drinking water raises major concerns about sustainability. Outcries over wasting of water on roads has been met with the crossroads between traditional dust control methods relative to dust control technologies that minimize fresh water use and in some instances completely replace its utilization. For example, use of 4 L/m2 of water results in alarming daily volumes of 500 000L on just a 5 km stretch of unsealed haul road with a width of 25 m. The question then becomes is that sustainable in a drought stricken region where water is scarce, and the summer weather is unbearable? The article seeks to discuss the menace of dust in Australia whilst focusing on the summer season, drought and water scarcity. Dust control will be highlighted from a sustainability approach as Global Road Technology advocates for sparing use of water for dust control in Australia. 

Environmental factors

The menace of dust in Australia has been driven the low ground cover which has been exacerbated by the recent bushfires with ground cover being at its lowest in decades. More recently in the New South Wales, ground cover was susceptible to westerly winds which blew South Australian topsoil into New South Wales and research supports the hypothesis that the lack of rainfall as a result of the drought escalates the dust storms. Climate change effects have been felt hugely in Australia. The continued strain on water resources as a result of the drought have led to completely dried out sections of the Murray-Darling Basin which includes New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. Australia’s hottest and driest year on record was 2019 and inevitably so, even the future predictions depict a similar trend of severe droughts and rampant water scarcity. As a matter of fact dust will become more prevalent in the coming years hence effective and sustainable dust control solutions are a necessity. Dust generation from economic activities such as mining, and agriculture also increases the pressure on water resources which are already scarce hence implementation of alternatives which minimize the need for water are core to adaptability and efficiency. 

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

global-road-technology-dust-control-australia-mining

Climate variation

Australian climate spans across a tropical north to a temperate south although majority of its three million square miles is hot and dry. Contributing to Australia’s aridity are cold ocean currents off the west coasts which limit evaporation for raincloud formation. In addition the Great Dividing Range spanning down its east coast stops rain from reaching far inland. Susceptibility to the El Niño and La Niña Australia extends high temperature and drought. Drought is a period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently prolonged with lack of water and causes serious hydrologic imbalance in the affected area. Australia’s drought crisis bears many faces as it consists of erratic precipitation patters, inadequate moisture in the soil, shift in surface and subsurface water supplies and physical shortages of water which affect Australian people, businesses and the environment at large. Hot and dry summers of environmental extremes with chronic water shortages leading to drought, dry soil and depletion of drinking supplies vary from one city to the other in an already growing population. 

Industrial water consumption

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 9% of the total bulk water extraction in 2017-2018 was consumed by mining, manufacturing, electricity and gas supply. In Australia mining water demand is sourced from surface water, groundwater and desalinated water. Legislative differences at State and Territory level can lead to omission of representative volumes of water used in mining as it might not be a requirement of the Water Act hence mine-related groundwater extractions for mine dewatering might not be included. Regardless the need for water utilization in dust control in mines is key and its use competes with the need to implement sustainable dust control methods that factor its scarcity, environmental conditions and drought. Productive land use in Australia especially for agricultural activities relies on availability of water and water scarcity driven by drought raises concerns for farmers with regards to productivity. The lack of water raises concerns over wind erosion which renders agricultural land as sources of dust and in the process transport topsoil which has a negative bearing on agricultural production. The limitations of relying on just water for dust control include its unavailability, competitive water economy which most likely takes away from that which is intended for domestic use and furthermore the need to use more than what is available for economic activities to achieve dust control.

Industry best practice

global-road-technology-dust-control-in-australia-mining

Hotter conditions associated with climate change increase the lift off of dust in unsealed haul mine roads and the dry conditions accelerate the dislodgment of particles generating fugitive dust. The drier the land without some form of dust control the more the susceptibility to respirable dust which can lead to pulmonary related ailments and the lack of visibility in dust laden areas can result in accidents to vehicle operators. To alleviate excessive water use and contribute to water security in Australia it is important to adopt dust control measures that either reduce its use or completely replace it. The innovative technologies should also be used bearing in mind the local environment especially biodegradability as solving one problem whilst creating another is counter-productive from an Earth Stewardship perspective. Dust generated from land use also highlights the need for sustainable practices such as vegetative cover which provides binding of soil particles and reduces the generation of dust. In the mining sector, from pit to port several stages require dust control and Global Road Technology offers products that can cater for each and every stage with incentives of minimizing water use whilst utilizing products that are environmentally friendly. GRT even has completely waterless technologies that can be used to deliver long-term dust control. Therefore, dust control meets summer, drought and water scarcity when sustainable dust control products are utilized as effective measures to control dust and created as innovative alternatives to tackle the key vulnerabilities escalated by climate change in Australia. 

Your feedback is important to us. If you enjoyed reading this Global Road Technology industry update and found it informative, please let us know by leaving a REVIEW.

REFERENCES 

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology. 2019. Water in Australia 2017-2018. 

Chartres, C., and Williams, J. 2006. Can Australia Overcome its Water Scarcity Problems? Journal of Developments in Sustainable Agriculture. 1:17-24. 

Institute for Sustainable Futures. 2019. Water Scarcity Risk for Australian Farms & The Implications For The Financial Sector. University of Technology Sydney. 

OECD. 2013. Water and Climate Change Adaptation: Policies to Navigate Uncharted Waters. 

Steffen, W., Vertessy, R., Dean, A., Hughes, L., Bambrick, H., Gergis, J., and Rice, M. 2018. Deluge and Drought: Australia’s Water Security in a Changing Climate. Climate Council of Australia.

Mills. M. 2010. Wasting water on dust control. Australian Mining. Retrieved 02/12/2020. 

What is meant by the term drought? Retrieved on 02/12/2020.

City by city. How water supplied fared in Australia’s summer of extremes. Retrieved on 02/12/2020. 

Troubled waters: experts comment on the drought and water policy. “Drought creeps up on us” Retrieved on 02/12/2020. 

Failing Rains and Thirsty Cities: Australia’s Growing Water Problem. Retrieved on 02/12/20. 

Australia’s Water is Vanishing. Retrieved on 02/12/20

Summer of dust storms still possible as ground cover in far west NSW among lowest in decades. Retrieved on 02/12/20.