The Australian mining town of Broken Hill is preparing for a future that doesn’t depend on silver and zinc, but there’s one resource it won’t be able to live without: water.
The prospect of that commodity running out has sparked concern in the remote community more than 1,110 kilometers (680 miles) west of Sydney. The city of 19,000 people exhausted its supply of water that can be treated conventionally, forcing it this month to turn on a desalination plant to process the salty remains. Water flowing into the Menindee Lakes, the city’s key source, is at a record low amid an El Nino-induced drought.
Broken Hill’s plight underscores the vulnerability of Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, and the investment needed to secure water for Outback communities. Federal and state governments are committing billions of dollars to water security, as researchers predict southern Australia will experience more frequent and severe droughts.
“We’ll see a lot more communities struggle with water,” Wincen Cuy, Broken Hill’s mayor, said in his office last month. “Without water, nothing happens. From an economic prosperity point of view, it’s exceptionally important.”
At least A$3.5 billion ($2.4 billion) of capital is being invested in Australia’s urban water industry annually, with projects aimed at making more efficient use of water resources drawing companies from Spain’s Acciona SA to Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp.
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