The Heat Is Online

Sydney Must Cut Water Use In Half

Do or dry, Sydney: cut water use by half or face a crippling shortage

The Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 13, 2005

Sydney needs to more than halve its water consumption to prevent a dire water shortage in 25 years, research by national water utilities concludes.

Water experts say the answer lies in a huge change in personal and industrial attitudes to water use, not just water restrictions.

Research conducted by the Water Services Association shows there will be a national shortfall of 275 gigalitres - about one half of Sydney Harbour - by 2015, and 818 gigalitres by 2030, because of declining rainfall and insufficient measures to curb water use.

Sydney and Brisbane will be the worst-affected, needing to cut consumption by 54 per cent and 51 per cent respectively. Melbourne and Perth need reductions of 41 per cent.

Carol Howe, who is using the research for the CSIRO's Future Cities program, said: "People should know that putting in an efficient showerhead does make a difference because it contributes to a bigger total [of water savings]."

Water experts said changing the way people think about water rather than focusing on restrictions was important. This included a radical rethink of the way gardens are tended, and the widespread adoption of rainwater tanks and large-scale schemes for the use of stormwater and grey water. Industry must also play its part.

Professor Peter Cullen, a member of the Wentworth Group of scientists and a former head of the Co-operative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, said: "The idea we are facing a major water deficit is quite correct. All the major cities are growing and that surely doesn't make any more water.

"Not watering the driveways has to been seen as normal practice, as careful use of a scarce resource."

The research shows that 27 gigalitres of water more than the sustainable yield of the country's storage system is being used each year, despite water restrictions and increasing government attempts to promote water conservation.

Ms. Howe said the shortfall was caused by climate change, population growth and more water being used for environmental flows. The looming deficit was particularly alarming, she said, because it assumed people would have conserved about 7 per cent more water than they were presently using, that 25 per cent of all new developments would have recycled water, and that water-efficient washing machines and appliances would be standard.

"It means we need to do everything governments are talking about but we need to do more to be sustainable in the long term," she said.

However, large-scale engineering solutions such as desalination plants and the reuse of stormwater and waste water needed to be balanced against the energy requirements and increased greenhouse gas emissions of such projects.