Hydro panels make sustainable water at school

Fifteen hydro panels installed at Valkyrie State School, southwest of Mackay, have created a sustainable water source and meant they no longer relied on water being trucked into the school.

Fifteen hydro panels installed at Valkyrie State School, southwest of Mackay, have created a sustainable water source and meant they no longer relied on water being trucked into the school.

Despite living in a First World country, young students at a small school in Queensland have gone without a basic human right — until now. For the first time in almost 50 years, Valkyrie State School, southwest of Mackay, can turn on the taps to a reliable and refreshing drink of water.

That is thanks to 15 hydro panels that use the sun to extract clean drinking water from the air.

Valkyrie P&C president Kristen Michelmore said the kids reported that it tasted amazing.

“We had frogs still getting into our tanks and not adequate filtration on any of that,” said Kristen.

“All this was about saying, ‘We’re not up to standard here. We’re not getting the same basic rights as everyone else in their school’. In conversations with the state government and Education Department, it’s been a long time coming to address the situation.”

For the past several years, the school has relied on water being trucked in and plastic bottles.

Year 2 student Ari Michelmore cannot get enough of the water.

“I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who helped put in the hydro panels so that we can drink really clean water,” Ari said.

Clean drinking water from the air with hydro panels

Kristen said some amazing funding partners heard their cries for help, with charity Rural Aid facilitating the installation of a hydro panel array.

A hydro panel collects and stores water vapour from the air instead of filtering groundwater.

Alex Polson from SOURCE said the panels created high-quality drinking water using air and sunlight.

“It uses solar PV through a fan that pumps the water through and out to the kids,” said Polson.

“Two panels is enough for a home … each panel in this particular array would produce around 100,000 litres of water over its lifetime. The panels here would offset about 800,000 plastic bottles the school would have consumed over its lifetime.”

Grant Miskimmin from Rural Aid said school children were often the last people who were considered when there was a drought issue.

“The kids have stress from their parents at home and to come to school and not have drinking water as well, it creates unnecessary angst for the children,” said Miskimmin.

“To be able to provide clean drinking water from a source from the air … it’s such a great project, and it gives the right message to the kids as well.”

School without permanent water

While the Valkyrie community is celebrating how far it has come, the problem is far from over.

Kristen said the Education Department had failed to address the elephant in the room.

“We are still without permanent water,” she said.

“There’s been the option of having a dam on the stock route just behind the school, and there’s also been the option of running a pipeline. But we had a sustainability study conducted by the Education Department and the state government, and it came back that the risks were too high for that.”

The Isolated Children’s Parents Association Queensland (ICPA) is working with the school to achieve a permanent groundwater supply.

Kristen hoped the lobbying carried out behind the scenes would positively affect water security for all rural schools.

“There are 125 other schools in our situation that don’t have access to permanent water, so this is something that I would like to see rolled out to all of those schools as well. Permanent drinking water is a basic right and a basic need that all Australian children and adults should have access to.”

ICPA state council secretary Loretta Goodwin said an audit was being conducted on more than 129 rural and remote schools not connected to a town water supply.

“Twenty-five schools [are] already being assessed. The department expects these results will be completed by late 2022 or early 2023,” said Goodwin.

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