Australia and Water:
The Clever Country…Not!
It’s crazy. On the driest inhabited continent on earth, we’ve developed the most expensive and inefficient way of dealing with our most precious asset–our water.
Think about it for a moment…
We build a dam 30 km. from town at great expense. We treat the dam water to the highest possible quality for drinking. We pipe it to our homes where…
35% of it ends up being hosed and sprinkled onto our gardens and lawns.
26% of it is used in the bathroom.
19% of it gets used to flush sewage from our toilets!
15% of it gets used to wash dirty clothes.
Total that up- 95% of our valuable drinking water resource is squandered on flushing toilets, washing, watering gardens, and in the bathroom.
And we are paying water rates, and EXCESS water rates for it! Only 4% of this pure drinking water is used for cooking, and just 1% for drinking!
Percentages are one thing, reality is another. How much real waste of water does this 95% mean? Well, we are told that the average water consumption of a Canberra home is 294,000 liters a year! That’s 30% more than Sydney and Melbourne households, by the way.
95% of 294,000 litres is 279,300 of pure drinking water- wasted. If you want to give the calculator a work out, try this. Take the figure of pure drinking water wasted per household (279,300l.), and then multiply it by the number of households in Canberra. How many households? Probably 90,000-100,000. Do the sums. Frightening, isn’t it?
Any wonder we keep talking about the need for a new dam.
The Clever Country? I Don’t Think So..
Meanwhile, Nature is at work. Free water falls out of the sky. In an average Canberra year, some 48,000 liters of rain falls on my modest home- an average of 430l. per square metre of roof. Another 7,000l. or so falls on my double garage. So what do we do with Natures’ bounty? How do we take advantage of this free gift of the best water in the world. Oh, yes. We pay for another lot of expensive infrastructure- the stormwater system- to take it away from our homes as quickly as possible.
At the same time, we’re busy taking the waste water from our showers, baths, washing machines- water that could be used on the garden, at least- and sending it with raw sewage to the Lower Molonglo Sewage Treatment Works. The time will come when we’re told we have to foot the bill to expand Lower Molonglo, and it will be because we’re pouring usable water down the sewer.
The Clever Country? I Don’t Think So.
What would a Clever Country, or in our case, a Clever City, do? We would:
- catch as much rainwater on our block as we could
- store as much water as we could
- use it instead of mains water for as many applications as we personally felt comfortable with. We each have a different attitude to this, and our attitude is evolving with time.
- re-use as much ‘grey water’ as we could on our block
What Would The Results Be?
We all get water bills; and most of us get excess water bills. We are charged $0.41c for the first 200,000 litres, then $0.94c for every thousand litres after that.
You can be sure that, as the need for a new dam gets closer, government will use the ‘stick’ of cost to encourage reduction in use of mains water. We’ve already had another small increase in the 2003-2004 Budget.
You don’t have to be Einstein to guess that the cost per liter we are billed for water will rise. The Conservation Council of the South East Region and Canberra has pointed out to the ACT Government in a Budget submission, that Sydney consumers pay a FLAT fee of $0.94.22c per thousand liters for EVERY drop.
Your water bill, and it’s excess water component used not to matter. Now it’s a irritation approaching $200 for the average household. In the future, it will become a major financial headache. Utilising rainwater saved on our blocks, and re-using grey water will free us from the personal taxation of rising water bills.
We’re getting close to needing a new dam, because we’re so wasteful at present. The really bad news, is that nobody’s going to give us one for Christmas! We’re going to have to buy it. Cost estimates are of the order of hundreds of millions of dollars at today’s prices. If we borrow that much for a dam, the annual interest bill alone would be $10,000,000+. That would have to be paid for by reducing expenditure elsewhere in our Budget (education? health?), by raising taxes, or raising the price of water- which is the same thing. Utilising rainwater and grey water on our blocks will put off the day when the community has to build a new dam.
Let’s Become A Water-Clever City.
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It’s time we became a Water-Clever City.
John Payne is the Founder of Enviro Friendly World. He was previously General Manager of a biological wastewater treatment company, and worked at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Canberra, Australia. John has successfully operated many businesses in a 40-year career, and has a life-long interest in science and nature. You are welcome to reprint this article or link to it. If reprinting, please use it as above, complete with links and author detail, and drop us an email telling us where it is located.