Managing Drought: Learning from Australia

Images of water use and drought in Australia

Illustrations from the Managing Drought Report, Alliance for Water Efficiency

This report was funded by the Californians and responds to the Californian drought crisis by summarising the lessons learnt in Australia from the Millenium drought. This quote caught our eye

“The Australian experience shows that investment in water conservation options provided the cheapest, quickest and most effective contribution to managing demand during the drought,” said Professor Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), at the University of Technology Sydney. “Without them many cities and towns would have run out of water.”

The report goes on to identify the importance of both increasing supply and reducing demand solutions and the effectiveness of a strong demand management program in uniting all of the community in meeting water saving targets. The report also highlights that decisions to build desalination units resulted in costly stranded assets after the drought ended.

The report partially supports the view of the RHAA that demand management solutions such as water efficient appliances, water efficient building design and water efficient behaviour programs are important water management tools that should be carefully costed and evaluated in strategic water planning.

The following figure from the report is a useful illustration of these points, the figure is very detailed so you may need to increase the magnification of your browser to 150% to read it and Explorer doesnt handle it, try Chrome or Firefox. It is on page 21 of the report here

table and figure

Table and figure of relative measures

The report provides some commentary on the NSW BASIX program as an example of regulatory performance based efficiency certification system requiring a 40% saving on 2004 average energy and water usage. The report does not recognise the significance of integrating land use planning with energy and water management or any analysis of the massive impact this has had on water use in NSW.

The report does not go on to say that one of the major alternative water sources that emerged during and since the drought has been rainwater harvesting, 156 billion litres supplying 8% of household water  and $500 million worth of water annually in 2013. (Rainwater Harvesting goes mainstream). With recycled water and stormwater reuse, rainwater harvesting needs to be carefully evaluated as a source of water used in conjunction with potable water in our cities.

The recent Victorian decision to start ordering desalinated water and revive the Target 155 program suggests these historical lessons may be relevant again in our future. What do you think, should we be using more lessons from the drought to plan for the future?

  • Reid Butler

    Something to consider is the change over time of appliance efficiency and smaller actions with millions of consumers. Dams give 1 big bang in one big go. Over many years, improved product efficiency and better actions adopted by everyone cumulatively achieves more.