Extensive urbanization has caused a loss of green space and threatened the biodiversity of metropolitan areas. Since the ecological system of the cityscape is deeply associated with the social system developed by humans (Elmqvist et al 2013), it becomes necessary to conduct an interdisciplinary research and plan a framework for ensuring biodiversity maintenance in urban areas. Sustainability considerations that is the methodical interplay between ecological, socio-cultural, environmental and economic considerations are crucial strategic aspects for determining the future improvement of the urban sphere. This area involves challenges concerning climate change, natural resources and water availability. Discussing ecological issues in context to urban challenges, sustainability challenge is a point to start with since it is linked to urban space (Adger 2000). There are further relevant considerations involving the implications of urban development and the impacts it has on other activities carried out within the geographical space. The connection between the urban and rural is not compulsively to be considered a negative one in fact urban space is not necessarily an intruder or and deteriorater of the ecological space. Rather, there is an elaborate interplay between the activities of urban space with the ones that are directly connected to that of the rural space having certain mutual benefits. The two differing spaces are therefore symbiotically linked, each re-enforcing the vitality and survival of both. However, the existence of an ecological footprint left by the urban space on the ‘hinterland’ or ‘’remote areas’’ cannot be denied. Additionally, the social facts of city life like value orientation and human satisfaction. For instance, the way climatic changes can affect the availability and quality of water have deep consequences for society and its inhabitants.
The vitality of water as a valuable source of human survival is a widely acknowledged fact although very little is being done for the protection and preservation of the water bodies. This paper considers the issue of the pollution of the Parramatta River for analyzing the socio-ecological challenges encountered by cities.
Australia’s most developed catchments, the Parramatta River, is a source of nourishment for many citizens. While a considerable number of people depend on the river for basic necessities, several activities of those people have unfavorable impacts on the health of the river. Storm water pollution is one of the main contributors to health deterioration of the river. Both in semi-urban and urban areas, the rain falling on the house roof or the collected raindrops in footpaths, roads and driveways is channelized and carried through a pipe system called the storm water system. The system is designed to channelize the flow of water directly from the street drains to rivers and creeks. Some systems are modified to filter and treat the water before it flows down to the river, but in most cases the water in its untreated and impure state consolidated into the river. This indicates how everything that is washed down by the drains like pesticides, litter and oil accumulates in the waterways. Pollutants like mulch, soil and weed is easily washed away during rainfall and erodes the water bodies (Montoya 2015). Since beaches and rivers are heavily impacted by storm water pollution, the quality if water worsens significantly after rain. Some major pollutants responsible for quality degradation are as follows:
Weed- the impact of weed on catchments not threatens the native flora and fauna but also degrades its health. They might obstruct the waterways, smother native plants and destroy native animal habitats. Weeds have made it to bush lands from people’s backyards due to water runoffs and animals or the winds carry their cuttings and seeds. As grass clippings, cuttings and pruning are dumped into bushlands, it allows weed to invade and spread quickly. Toxic weeds threaten animal and human health, causing significant damage to the environment and agricultural production. Environmental weed reduce the environmental value of bushlands by invading them. They produce huge number of seeds and have very few predators.
Erosion by animals- Introduced animals is a major threat to the Parramatta river catchment. The eroded river attracts several animals that pollute both the land and the water bodies. Some birds and rabbits damage vegetation, which is a primary cause of erosion.
Sedimentation- the waterways are gradually becoming muddier and shallower, which is most noticeable after a heavy downpour. Human activities like vehicle use, building and clearing leave the ground bare the soil is hence washed away easily during rain. The fertile topsoil is removed by erosion and the washed away soil contains minerals, seeds, organic matters and nutrients. When sand, dust, soil, building debris, paint and cement accumulate at the waterways, they block drains, causes algal blooms, causes health hazards for swimmers, suffocate and smother water plants and affects the ability of animals to reproduce.
Some lobby groups are attempting to sanction the harbor to eliminate the argumentative issue concerning marine parks. More efforts and strategies need to be implemented for ensuring that the waterways remain flawless, a nurturing qualities with aquatic life for everyone to enjoy. A fanciful utopia of Marine Park is a far cry and the blame lies with excessive urbanization. The government has good reasons for shutting down commercial fishing (Banks et al 2016) since the fish species are under constant threats of extinction. The quality of water is the biggest quality by far and the water management teams must ensure clean sources for protecting marine life. Environmentalists need to invest more energy and time on water quality to make a progress with sustainability and ecological preservation. The sediments of the Parramatta river are so hazardously polluted that it is no longer safe to consume fish in the west of Harbor Bridge. Researchers have discovered concentrations of lead, zinc and copper from industrial work (Lee et al 2014) and storm water in Port Jackson which is toxic enough for rendering sterility to the oysters and a drop in the oyster population would indicate the same in the population of fish. People with even a remote interest in the environment and the waterway in particular should come together for a similar cause and invest their energies at fixing the problem of pollution. The harbors are far from a pristine environment and the backyards need to be cleaned first (Lee 2014) before starting any venture on marine parks. The toxic residue accumulating for fifty years sitting at the bottom of the Parramatta River. This toxic bomb has the potential to worsen the pollution levels which are already high. The extensive developments along the river shore further pollutes the sullied water. The part of the river flowing beneath the Ryde Bridge is awfully degraded in oxygen and produces huge quantities of acid excretions and marsh gas. The increased level of biological oxygen caused due to microbiological activity is lethal for the life and health of marine animals. A motor cruiser was used recently to gather data and sample from the river, it was observed that the most depleted upper reaches are not flushed substantially by tidal actions. The bottom has saline and denser water according to the different layering shown by the water column. A saline layer keeps moving up and down the river bottom during tidal cycle and mixes negligibly with the upper layer of the water which is less density and pollution.
It needs to be mentioned that water pollution is both natural and caused by humanity. Natural water pollution is caused due the flow of salt into fresh water, animal decay and volcanic gases that merges with the river waters after an eruption. The concerned authority must look for ways to effective waste management. The industrial waste must be disposed with a plan that is environmentally conscious. Hazardous waste must be managed conscientiously with the help of sustainable technology. One of the primary contributors to the pollution of the Parramatta River is the poor management of industrial waste. Manufacturing produces chemical pollutants which is disposed to the water bodies, deteriorating the life of marine animals. Some industrial wastes, which are less hazardous to health (Evan et al 2016), can be recycled to reduce the amount of waste. Waste separation is another aspect that requires proper attention. Plastics and industrial materials take years for decomposition and hence should be segregated during disposal. Composting and recycling should be put to more practice for ensuring the water bodies are not the only dumping ground for wastes. A case study conducted on the estuaries of the Parramatta River revealed the following results: the water supply, control and transport concerning the early settlers of the area have altered the river’s flow. Catchment inputs dominate the quality in the estuary and substantial area of the river is suitable for human contact (Mcloughlin 2000). Another factor that has reduced the quality of water is the broad alterations of the estuarine shingle which reduces the tidal flushing in several areas. The natural vegetation remaining in the catchment is allied to creek lines. The study undertook various vegetation assessments and the reports suggests that reclamation works have caused a loss of vegetation and cleared the frequency of various exotic species. The study further found certain drawbacks in the management issues. Natural vegetation has diminished vastly due to urbanization along the catchment. The catchment has very little areas of vegetation, the focus of the management should therefore revolve around restoring and preserving the remaining areas of natural vegetation. Efforts should be made for the enhancement and maintenance of riparian corridors. The quality of water within the river catchments has diminished significantly following European settlement. Point sources, land contamination and pacts industrialization have been major contributors of deteriorated water quality. The greenhouse impacts of urbanization (Umakanthan and Ball 2005) and the variations to natural landscapes have changed the usual climatic conditions. The urban sprawl and increased population is likely to have more consequences. Government, private and public land ownership in close proximity to the catchment need to be balanced for avoiding conflict in management initiatives. Findings of the study suggests that urban areas are prone to contamination due to storm water. Land use accounts for the kinds of pollutants that enter into the lower layer of the Parramatta River. Toxic materials and large quantities of dissolved materials were recorded in highly developed areas. This implies that materials from sources like sewer leaks and sewer overflows are the primary inputs of water depletion. Areas with lesser use of industrial land have better water quality since the catchment activities generate different types of pollutant loads. The increased size and number of rainproof areas in the cityscape has reduced the quantity of rain infiltrating the ground or retained in the vegetation. As a consequence, increased amount of storm water enter the receiving waterways and the drainage system. The timing of the peak flow arrival has also changed due to urbanization. The drainage systems of storm water had been traditionally constructed for removing storm water as fast as possible from the residential areas for minimizing the risk of flood and rainwater stagnation. The catchments which are less modified release run-offs over a large period of time which assists in maintaining healthier and improved water environments. The heavily urbanized channels of the Parramatta River estuary is designed in a way to channelize the flow of stream water directly into the river. This means that all the sediments and pollutants the stream water carries with it enters directly into the river without getting filtered. The pollution in the river is the root cause of several water based diseases. Earlier, when fishing in the harbor was allowed, people consuming fishes which can be toxic by the pollutants and that contracted diseases. The pollution has also destroyed the delicate wetlands that surrounded the area.
A commitment summing up to 5 million dollars is initiated over the last three years for making the water of the Parramatta River safe and suitable for swimming again. The campaign aims to restore the swimmable characteristic of the river by the year 2025 (Cunningham, and Birtles 2015). The Catchment group of the Parramatta River is leading the campaign. Although the group has not yet been able to declare the source funding of the campaign the authorities stated that the 5 million will would inaugurate frameworks to make the water of the river swimmable again and begin activation on-ground (Gardner et al 2015). As far-fetched as it may sound to restore the river exactly in its original state, eminent professor of New South Wales Dr. Stuart Khan illustrates its possibility, stressing a lot on the immense hard work it will require. He further stated that one of the key issues concerning the cleaning up of the river was getting out sewerage from it. For starters, it is ideal to make people aware of the future consequences of water pollution and help them understand the grimness of the issue before looking at the ways for identifying the sources of the illegal connections and look for ways to rectify. For identifying and fixing the leakages in the sewage system, it requires massive work on infrastructure (Ball 1998). For pushing this issue, the community as a whole need to be made aware. State budgets are highly dependent on community support and disinterest on the behalf of the community will not raise the required fund from the State. It is more about promoting consciousness and getting citizens excited about being able to swim in the river again. The government is supporting the catchment group of the Parramatta River through agencies. The Local Land Services of Sydney has developed a harbor for improving the water quality of the harbor catchment. The improvement plans and other modelling tools are guiding the problems related to water quality and aims to make the river swimmable again by the next 30 years. The models have been utilized for demonstrating the feasibility of this initiative along with providing guidance on the ways of progress and proceedings. The council of Parramatta River voted in support of the group’s vision that the campaign has both the potential to transform the roughness of the place and preserve its surroundings. Changes in the infrastructure like walking tracks and cycle ways will have a major role in rejuvenating the river (Hughes 2000). The purpose of having a pristine river is to attract animals and humans towards it, so that they can benefit and enjoy the same. There is no denying that activities like swimming in the historical place called Little Cooge cannot be made possible overnight but the works executed on some parts of the river looks quite promising. More efforts must be made on the east sections of the river since it is in worse shape than the rest of the areas. The council have conducted several studies and one of the crucial findings were that the poor planning around the banks of the river in by previous settlements have failed to make proper use of the waterway. In order to prevent the rubbish from getting into the river, Catchment groups are working hard since the last 5 years to place the measures effectively. Expert of ecological conservation opine that what the people need to realize is the importance of natural resources in improving the quality of life. The native species living in the catchment are as many as 360, and many of them play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance. These species also ensure the revitalization of the river which helps in resorting the swim ability, the active space and the vibrancy of the river so both the humans and animals can take due advantage of it. The surge of interest to protect the remaining natural resources of the earth has greatly benefitted the campaigns issued in interest of preserving the river. Protection of the natural ecosystem will require strategic action and collective planning. The Parramatta River Catchment Group, called the PRCG, council groups, State Government and communities, aims to work together for improving the river’s health. PRCG is requesting the people to vote for their most favored mascots from the lot of native species in the river for encouraging the residents of Sydney to rally for the protection of the endangered ecosystems and the species native to them. The regional collaboration of PRCG aims to ensure synchronization of efforts, efficient use of resources for achieving a better impact on administrative decisions and policies that affects the catchment. The PRCG launched a campaign called Our Living River Initiative with the motive of making the Parramatta River more swimmable. The council has introduced a masterplan for essential steps required for meeting the objective. It has taken an approach based on strong outcomes for simplifying the complex task. Further, a rehabilitation of streams is desirable and the remaining natural waterways must be protected from the hazardous impacts of weeds, urban encroachment and urban storm water. This calls for more advanced storm water management and proper planning of the sewerage system. The activists have also stressed on the preservation of species to ensure a natural flow on the improvement rates of the program.
Based on the studies conducted on the pollution of Parramatta River, it can be asserted that pollution of water bodies is one of the chief socio-ecological challenges of cities. It has similar consequences for the environment and the health and well-being of human beings. The state and the government are making ample efforts for improving the poor condition of the river, although it will remain a far cry as long as people are not made conscious of the importance of preserving natural resources like rivers. The council responsible for environmental conservation should implement better waste management policies since the waste mismanagement is the primary contributor of pollution. The campaigns initiated by the concerned council are highly promising, but they require constant communal support for achieving the objectives.
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