Australians cut water consumption in half

Photo credit: The CS Monitor

A traditionally dressed Australian Aboriginal performer has a drink of water as he prepares to participate in a traditional dance during an event on Sydney’s Coogee Beach May 27. Australians have had to cope with water shortages through innovative and practical means.

How Australians survived a 13-year drought by going low-tech

Residents of Melbourne, Australia, cut water consumption in half by capturing rainwater and using efficient toilets and washing machines.

If you think California’s four-year drought is apocalyptic, try 13 years. That’s how long southeastern Australia suffered through bone-dry times.

But it survived. When the so-called Millennium Drought ended in 2009, residents of Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, were using half the amount of water they had when it began.

A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, set out to investigate how Melbourne, a city of 4.3 million people, dramatically cut water consumption, and whether the city’s experience might hold lessons for California and other drought-stricken regions.

The short answer? Salvation came from a $2,000 rainwater tank rather than a $6 billion desalinization plant.

As the Millennium Drought dragged on, authorities approved the construction of costly infrastructure projects similar to those now being considered in California, including that expensive desalinization plant.  But the researchers found that conservation and recycling were the keys that got Melbourne through year after rainless year, according to the study published May 26 in the journal WIREs Water. 

Melbourne residents took advantage of government rebates for home rainwater tanks to capture runoff from roofs, using it to water plants and flush toilets. The state of Victoria also changed the building code to require the tanks in all new homes.

By 2009, about a third of homes were capturing free water from the sky and supplying 2 percent of Melbourne’s potable water.

Read the full article: The Christian Science Monitor

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.