- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

MELBOURNE, Australia — Dire warnings expected in a U.N. climate report today are being taken to heart in Australia, where the world’s driest inhabited continent is suffering through its longest drought in 100 years.

While torrential rains have cut roads and railway lines in a few isolated areas, most reservoirs are at record lows, water restrictions are in force in the major cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, and wildfires have been rampant in all parts of Australia since May.

There are signs that the El Nino pattern blamed for the drought may be ending, but weather researchers say it is far too early to forecast an end of “the big dry.” More ominously, two scientific reports suggest that the drought is a sign of things to come.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in a report commissioned by the state of New South Wales, predicts drastic temperature rises and a decrease in rainfall of up to 40 percent over the next 70 years.

The study said the state capital, Sydney, will record an average temperature rise of 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030 and 8.6 degrees by 2070.

Equally alarming forecasts are expected in the report to be released today in Paris by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), details of which have been reported in the Australian newspaper the Age.

According to the newspaper, the IPCC report will say that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef faces extinction and, unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to slow global warming, damage to coastal areas, key ecosystems and the farming sector will cost Australia billions of dollars.

Tourism accounts for more than 4 percent of Australia’s economy with visits to the Great Barrier Reef alone worth $4.5 billion and sustaining at least 63,000 full-time jobs.

Farmers can expect equally grim news. Based on present trends, the flow of water along rivers and streams that feed into the Murray-Darling Basin — home to more than two-thirds of Australia’s irrigated crops and pasturelands — will fall by 10 percent to 25 percent by 2050, according to the IPCC report.

Last year’s inflow into the basin was less than half the previous all-time low.

Prime Minister John Howard, under fire from environmentalists for his refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has proposed that the federal government to take control of the ailing river systems from the states at a cost of nearly $8 billion.

State premiers are divided on federal control and on suggestions that wastewater from sewage treatment plants be recycled for drinking water.

South Australia Premier Michael Rann insisted that residents of his state would not drink recycled water on his watch, but was startled to learn that treated wastewater was already being channeled into the reservoir supplying the capital, Adelaide.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said residents in his state would be drinking recycled water by the end of next year now that state dam levels have fallen to 23 percent of capacity.

The premiers of Victoria and Western Australia said their states had other plans to manage water supplies although recycled water would be used in industry.

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