Adelaide – water crisis
Posted by lahar9jhadav on September 5, 2007
ABC: “AM” – Saturday, 21 April , 2007 08:04:00
Reporter: Nance Haxton
ELIZABETH JACKSON: At the end of a week that’s been dominated by water, or the lack of it, it’s now apparent that the town near the end of the River Murray, Adelaide, is facing an unprecedented water supply crisis.
Adelaide’s water comes from the River Murray and the Mt Lofty Ranges catchment, which is rapidly drying up.
The scenario is now so serious the South Australian Government is considering building a weir near Wellington at the lower reaches of the River Murray to ensure that Adelaide has enough water for domestic supply.
And a report released yesterday by the Prime Minister warns that the Government might be forced to drain wetlands along the Murray-Darling to ensure a water supply to the townships.
Nance Haxton reports from Adelaide.
NANCE HAXTON: Adelaide’s water supply has now reached an unprecedented tipping point.
Professor Peter Cullen, from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, says with only 40 days of water supply (see Editor’s note) left in Adelaide’s reservoirs, it will require careful management of the city’s water reserves to get through the next summer.
PETER CULLEN: Historically we’ve never seen anything like this, and this is the second year that we’ve had it. I mean, last year was the lowest inflows to the Murray on record, and I don’t think any of us thought we’d have one as low as that again. This one could be as low as last year again.
So the system is virtually empty.
NANCE HAXTON: Traditionally, Adelaide has sourced its water in varying proportions from the River Murray and the Mt Lofty Ranges. If one of those areas was suffering drought, the other source would be relied on more.
But even worst-case scenarios calculated by the South Australian Government in its Waterproofing Adelaide project two years ago, did not contemplate 10 months running of record low inflows to the River Murray, combined with a simultaneous drying up of the Mt Lofty Ranges catchment.
Professor Cullen says Adelaide has been caught out.
PETER CULLEN: You only have 40 days’ storages, because you always have had a reliable supply from the Murray, and so all the time you’ve been pumping from the Murray you don’t have to store a huge amount, so you haven’t got a big dam that you can sort of fill up or whatever. Now, if the Murray goes off then you have about 40 days left.
NANCE HAXTON: South Australia’s Premier, Mike Rann, says while the situation is dire, it is manageable with further restrictions.
MIKE RANN: Whatever is necessary. I mean, the fact is you can’t legislate for rain, and that’s why we have to be prepared with things like the weir, and we’re doing that work.
NANCE HAXTON: But Professor Peter Cullen, who was a thinker in residence in Adelaide concentrating on water issues three years ago, says a weir is not a long-term solution.
PETER CULLEN: I know there’s difficulties in finding a good site, and there are issues as to what that will do to salinity.
I mean, I think Adelaide should be looking at a desalination plant, and I really do think that you’ve got quite a good groundwater resource on the Adelaide plains, and it’s perhaps absolutely critical that you start regarding that as a potential source of water for Adelaide and stop using it just on racecourses and golf courses.
NANCE HAXTON: Premier Mike Rann says the State will do whatever is required to get through the crisis, particularly if much-needed autumn rains do not come.
MIKE RANN (pictured): The seriousness of this has now dawned on people across the nation, and that’s why we’ve had to take the sort of action we did. This is why we had to do the contingency planning for a weir.
Now, we still think that there’s less than a five per cent chance of it needed to be built, but you have to put in the planning. That’s why we’ve committed ourselves to the biggest desalination plant in the southern hemisphere, the second biggest in the world, and we’re even looking at the feasibility of a second one. That’s why we’ve looked at upgrading water restrictions.
But the bottom line is that we will be advised in May about what should happen after July the 1st, and this is basically on a constant watch.
NANCE HAXTON: Professor Cullen says the South Australian Government needs to make some tough decisions in coming weeks.
PETER CULLEN: Adelaide doesn’t store a lot of water, so it is dependent on having a good supply from the Murray, and if the Murray drops too much, then the Murray might become too salty to use.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: That was Professor Peter Cullen ending Nance Haxton’s report.
Editor’s Note: Professor Cullen has since contacted the ABC to advise that his statement of 40 days storage capacity for Adelaide is incorrect. He now says the correct figure is 30 weeks, as the length of time water supplies will last depends on levels of restriction and inflows. He says his point was to highlight that Adelaide stores less than one year’s water needs compared with three to six years in eastern cities.
The water crisis
Issue 9 of Cosmos, June 2006
by Sara Phillips
With a growing population and a drying climate, Australia – like many rich nations – is running out of water. Solutions are not easy nor cheap … and may require cities to tap their sewers.
I’m sitting in the office of Anne Howe on the 13th floor of one of the taller buildings of Adelaide’s central business district. Howe is the chief executive of the South Australian Water Corporation, and her office is spacious and comfortable – as one would expect. But Howe herself is refreshingly devoid of pretension. A warm, competent woman, lines are beginning to crease the corners of her eyes and mouth. You get the sense they were formed during enjoyable evenings with friends rather than through the stresses of running a big company.
Howe’s assistant enters the room, bringing with her two tall glasses of cool water and sets them down in front of us. I eye mine dubiously.
Adelaide has a reputation for having the worst water in Australia. Many Adelaidians prefer tank water, or bottled water; most have in-built water filters in their kitchens.
Adelaide takes its water from the Murray River. By the time it gets to Adelaide, countless small towns have extracted their local supply and returned their waste to the river. Larger towns too: the toilets inside Parliament House in Canberra drain, eventually, to the Murray.
And here am I in the office of the chief executive of the company that provides Adelaide with its drinking supply, about to drink that water that has travelled a journey of over 3,000 km from its wellspring as the Condamine River in the Darling Downs, Queensland. This water has passed through countless sets of kidneys, across so many paddocks, through so much treatment, before ending up crystal clear and cool in an air-conditioned office in the heart of Adelaide.
The water is delicious.
Australian are fond of telling visitors that they have the best water in the world. Melburnians, particularly, will describe the pristine forests that filter their water, providing them with water of unparalleled purity. And that’s true.
But even Melbourne is not completely shielded from the infiltration of ‘faecal coliforms’, the indicators that faecal matter has found its way into the drinking supply. The upper reaches of the Yarra River provide a small portion of Melbourne’s drinking water. The towns on its banks, in the wine-growing Yarra Valley, treat their waste with septic tanks: a method notorious for leaking and polluting local waterways.
Testing Melbourne’s Sugarloaf reservoir water prior to treatment registers a miniscule four E. coli bacteria per 100 mL of water. It may be small, but it’s enough to indicate that the excrement of a warm-blooded creature is in the water supply. It might be cow, bat or human, but somehow, somewhere the proverbial hit the water.
The reality is all water supplies in Australia need techniques to combat potential faecal contamination. They work. No one in Australian cities dies from dysentery or cholera. However, raise the prospect of reusing treated sewage – let alone drinking it – and you’ll struggle to contain the hue and cry.
The irony is that Australians live on the driest inhabited continent in the world – only Antarctica gets less rain. Of all the places in the world where it is essential to make the most of every drop of water, Australia is it.
“There’s energy around and a debate about it; a sense of crisis across Australia about water,” said Howe. “I think the last five years have really heightened everyone’s interest in it, from an environmental perspective – dying rivers, dying red gums, loss of fish species – every state’s got its own issues.”
Both sides of Australia’s federal parliament – in a rare moment of consensus – have said the situation is dire. Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Water Policy, Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull, says that, “In many parts of the nation, crisis is not too strong a word.” While Labor’s shadow minister for water, Anthony Albanese said, “A crisis is certainly looming”.
There’s no denying the statistics are frightening. Australia, on average, received only 513 mm of rain in 2004. The United Kingdom, in contrast, receives a mean rainfall of 1,100 mm each year, and damp New Zealand can get up to 1,500 mm in a year, averaged across the country.
Of the water available for Australians to use, one quarter of the rivers and lakes has already been snapped up for drinking, industry and agriculture, and a staggering one third of the water underground is being pumped to the surface and used for the same purposes. A lot of the areas where the water has not been already claimed are in out-of-the-way places that are largely uninhabited. But where humans are found, the water has almost all been earmarked and, in some cases, more than the available water has already been allocated to various users.
As Australia’s population grows, this over-allocation of water is only likely to get worse. There will be more washing and cleaning, more drinking and, most importantly, more crops to grow to feed swelling populations – both locally and in export markets. Already, 75 per cent of the water used by Australians goes toward agriculture. Just 16 per cent of the total – 24,909 gigalitres (that’s 24,058 billion litres) used in Australia in 2000-2001 ended up in the cities.
And if you ask Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, the outlook is bleak. By 2030 rainfall on the major capitals (except Hobart) could drop by 15 per cent because of climate change. Perth could lose up to 20 per cent of rainfall, according to the 2001 report, Climate Change Projections for Australia. At the same time, rising temperatures will cause evaporation to increase, making our water storages vanish into thin air.
The Water Services Association of Australia predicts that if no water conservation measures are taken, and climate change and population growth continue as forecast, Australia’s 10 largest cities will – by 2030 – be consuming 854 gigalitres (GL) more water than they use. That’s a monumental increase in demand. To put it in perspective, that’s nearly two times more water than the whole of Melbourne currently uses in a year.
Clearly, the driest inhabited continent in the world has a problem.
It’s a perversely comforting thought that Australia is not alone it its predicament. Climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, uniting the human species – and every other living creature, whether they like it or not – in hardship. The United Nations describes the global water situation as a “crisis … essentially caused by the ways in which we mismanage water”. The U.N. is so concerned about water, it has named 2005 to 2015 as the Decade of Water.
According to the U.N., water use has risen six-fold in the past 100 years. We are now at the point where half of the world’s wetlands have vanished, and 20 per cent of freshwater fish are endangered.
More than one sixth of the world’s population, some 1.2 billion people, do not have enough clean water to drink every day. It is estimated that 3.3 million people die as a result of drinking this untreated water every year.
But disease is not the worst of the world’s water worries: running short is a far more pressing problem. The U.N. forecasts that by 2050, between 2 billion and 7 billion human beings will be affected by chronic water shortages. Climate change will have a bearing, as will population growth and improving living standards, which leads to higher rates of consumption.
In an article for the U.N. Chronicle, Albert Schumacher, a Canadian physician, says: “China is an excellent illustration of the daunting water management challenge that we face in this century. It has approximately 21 per cent of the global population, but access to only 7 per cent of the planet’s fresh water. This situation is exacerbated by its rapid industrialisation, with millions of people migrating from the countryside to the cities, a greatly increased use of indoor plumbing and changing diets that include water-intensive foods like beef and pork.”
It’s when the water runs out that things really start to get ugly. Many analysts have forecast that wars in the future will not be fought over land, religion, or oil; it is water that will trigger conflict.
“Just as war over fire sparked conflict among early prehistoric tribes, wars over water may result from current tensions over this resource in the next few years,” according to a 2001 report prepared by the consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The Near and Middle East are the zones where there is the greatest threat.”
In 2002, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that “Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict.” Since then, the U.N. has backed away from the suggestion of all-out warring over water, but maintains the situation is nonetheless grave. In a report released to celebrate World Water Day 2006 (March 22), the U.N. said, “Conflicts occur, in particular, between users sharing the same resource – a situation often exacerbated by traditional values, customs and practices, historical factors and geographical vagaries.”
Singapore is one country that has seen the writing on the wall. It sources most of its water from neighbouring Malaysia. Like many neighbours, they have the occasional squabble. So, to ensure the squabbles never resulted in a threat to Singaporeans’ water, the tiny country decided to make itself less reliant on its neighbour. It calls this the ‘Four Taps’ policy.
It has built a desalination plant to extract fresh water from the sea, as well as a high-tech wastewater recycling plant, NEWater, which supplies some of the city-state’s drinking water. The other two ‘taps’ are the traditional local reservoirs, and the supply from Malaysia.
It’s not just Singapore that is forging a new path. Australia, with its pressing need for water solutions, is exploring a range of ideas that could one day be exported. John Radcliffe, a commissioner for Australia’s National Water Commission, describes Australia as “having the scope” to lead the world in water innovation. Because Australia is so dry, and its situation so dire, it could prove a harbinger of things to come globally.
The European Union is so interested in Australia’s work, it is funding some of the research. On the northern edge of Adelaide, the area of the City of Salisbury is a flat, dull plain. It is here, amongst the saltpans and industrial estates that the E.U. is closely watching a project instigated by the local government, under the leadership of Colin Pitman. Director of city projects at the council, Pitman has been devising schemes to capture, clean and reuse stormwater for 25 years.
He’s a rotund man with a white beard and a twinkle in his eye. Even without wearing a shred of red cloth, his resemblance to Santa Claus is remarkable. His schemes utilise a porous layer of rock that holds water under the Salisbury plains, known as an aquifer. Pitman stores the water collected after a storm in this aquifer and pumps it out later when the council needs it. Working with the South Australian Water Corporation (SA Water), and several other partners – including the E.U. – the council is now experimenting with injecting treated stormwater into the aquifer in one location and pumping it out in another. This ‘aquifer storage, transfer and recovery’ system holds promise for Berlin, as the German capital is so dependant on its groundwater supply for drinking. They are watching to see how the water quality changes during its time underground.
Pitman said he considers it “important that other councils in Adelaide, across Australia and worldwide, pick up the techniques proven by the City of Salisbury, adapted to their own specific local conditions, of course.”
The project is just one of many ideas being test-driven in Salisbury. Dependent on the grubby Murray River, and acutely aware of Adelaide’s status as the driest state in the driest continent, the municipality is working towards utilising every drop of rain that falls on its district.
Salisbury is famous in the water industry for its innovation. But it is only one of many clever schemes being implemented across Australia. New South Wales has its BASIX scheme, in which all new houses are required to reduce demand for water dramatically, and other states have similar programs. The way Australians are charged for water has changed in recent years, encouraging thrift. Western Australia is looking into aquifer storage and recovery of treated wastewater too, and they have famously elected to build a giant desalination plant at Kwinana, a major industrial area south of Perth.
But the concept that is causing the most buzz of all, and the most controversy, is the reuse of treated wastewater.
Hundreds of millions of litres of wastewater flow into the sea from the Australian coast every day. Take Sydney: the federal government’s 2001 State of the Environment report calculated that the Sydney Water Corporation released 548 GL of wastewater, and 420 GL of stormwater to the sea in one year. If the utility had reused this water completely, it would have been able to supply Sydney with enough water for 18 months. It would mean no more water restrictions for Sydneysiders, imposed in June 2004 when the city’s major supply, Warragamba Dam, dipped to 46 per cent capacity. But instead, this water goes into the ocean where it benefits no one, and in fact may harm marine life.
In some places in Australia, treated wastewater is reused. Within the Salisbury municipal area, treated wastewater from the Bolivar plant is mixed with treated stormwater and piped to a new suburb called Mawson Lakes. Residents use the water to keep their gardens green and flush their toilets. A few teething problems aside, most are perfectly satisfied with the ‘dual-reticulation’ system. Sydney has similar areas called Rouse Hill and Newington, Melbourne has the Sandhurst development, and Queensland is working on an even more comprehensive scheme at Pimpana-Coomera combining recycled water, rainwater tanks and other ‘water-sensitive urban design’ ideas.
Residents are reportedly very proud of their status of technology pioneers. So much so, that the good folk of Rouse Hill use vastly more water than their mains-water neighbours, happily watering their gardens through the driest days of the recent drought.
Almost every capital city in Australia has plans to increase the amount of sewage they recycle. Some cities are planning more dual-reticulation schemes for new residential developments, others are selling the recycled water to industry, agriculture and sporting grounds.
Adelaide is blessed in this respect, having many farms within earshot of the sewage-treatment plants as well as farmers willing to purchase the treated water – hence its enviable recycling rate of 21 per cent. Sydney, by contrast, with its paltry 3 per cent, has its treatment plants largely located on the coast, surrounded by suburbs that have been there since Australia became a nation in 1901 and even before.
To recycle anything of volume from these plants, Sydney would need to dual-reticulate the surrounding suburbs (at exorbitant cost), pump the treated water back across Sydney to industry and sporting fields, or pump the water dozens of kilometres to the nearest agriculture. Some of these are viable options for Sydney, and water industry experts have publicly condemned the Sydney Water Corporation for not doing more to make the most of this valuable resource.
Charles Essery, an adjunct professor at the University of Western Sydney and a former advisor to the New South Wales state government on water, decries Sydney’s slow pace on the issue. “Sydney Water, since 1995, has been completely unimpressed by the concept of recycled water. Then we had the cryptosporidium scare in 1998 from the overflow of sewage into the drinking supply. Well, it just gave Sydney Water the excuse they needed to abandon any plans they might have had for recycling.”
Such is the frustration with Sydney’s lack of action that a company, Services Sydney, was formed to capitalise on Sydney Water’s failures. Its major shareholders and founders are John van der Merwe, a mechanical engineer and Tony Feitelson, an architect and investor. The new company fought the bureaucrats like a cat at bath-time to gain access to Sydney Water’s sewers, and had to apply to the Australian Competition Tribunal to declare the treatment of sewage open to competition. It wants to offer to Sydneysiders an alternative sewage disposal solution: it would then hire the sewers from the government-owned utility and pipe the sewage to its own treatment plant. After treatment, the water would be sold to industrial customers or released to the Hawkesbury River to compensate for the water extracted to supply Sydney’s drinking water.
State bureaucrats fought the plan to the point where former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr took the extraordinary step of seeking a judge’s permission to intervene in the tribunal. But by early 2006, Services Sydney had claimed success, having won the right to access the sewers. Van der Merwe says the company is now “going gangbusters”, deep in negotiations with Sydney Water for a fair price in order to access the utility’s sewers.
There is another option for reuse of treated wastewater, one that is comparatively inexpensive, one that is simple, and one that would save the most water. And that option is drinking it.
The cost of building new pipes and pumps to dual-reticulate new or old suburbs, or for industrial use, is very high. And in places like Sydney, getting permission to lay new pipes – disturbing major roads and communities – can be costly and troublesome. For many places, the cost of laying those pipes could be better spent in treating the wastewater to a higher standard and connecting it back into the drinking water supply. Although most people would be surprised, this can be done safely, even producing water that is purer than the water most Australians drink today.
There are two ways in which treated wastewater is used for drinking. The first is ‘indirect potable reuse’, in which treated sewage is mingled with other water from which a town’s supply is taken. All the towns on the Murray, including Adelaide, are indirectly drinking the wastewater of people upstream. And there are countless other Australian towns doing the same. The water supply for Sydney is downstream of the sewage outlet for Goulburn, a town of 27,000 people (and more than enough water worries of its own).
The second is ‘direct potable reuse’, in which the wastewater is piped directly from the treatment plant to the town’s drinking water main -dubbed by opponents ‘toilet to tap’. Perhaps the oldest example of the practice is in Namibia, where they have been drinking their treated wastewater since 1968.
The most powerful argument for Australians drinking their treated wastewater – directly or indirectly – is that they already are. Whether they know it or not.
But there is still a potent fear of sewage that drives opposition to recycling schemes at every level, from grassroots to government. Communities fear sewage reuse and governments fear voter backlash for proposing it. It may not be logical, but it carries punch.
Blair Nancarrow knows a bit about this fear. The director of the Australian Research Centre for Water in Society – housed in the CSIRO’s Land and Water division’s offices in Perth – has been researching the public’s attitude to recycled water for some time. She puts the pervasive fear down to “the yuck factor”.
“It hangs so much on irrational and emotive feelings,” she said. “Information and knowledge doesn’t seem to affect behaviour at all.”
Knowledge of health risks, the treatment process and the science made no difference to whether people would try a glass of recycled water or not. “The closer it comes to personal contact, the more people get turned off by it,” Nancarrow added. Watering the garden is fine, flushing the toilet is OK, doing the laundry gets a bit iffy, having a shower is more of a problem. But drinking it? Forget it.
In some respects, this attitude has the hallmarks of a phobia. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV is a guide to the diagnosis of psychological problems: it defines a phobia as a “marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable”. It further notes that, “the person recognises that the fear is excessive or unreasonable”.
If you look at the facts of recycled water objectively, certainly fear does seem excessive and unreasonable. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1.11 million people in every 10 million are likely to have asthma in a year; 68,493 in 10 million will have their car stolen; 7.1 people in 10 million will be struck by lightning; and just one person will catch a virus from using recycled water.
With technological advances in recent years, recycled water can be made to be purer than rainwater. However, treating water is an expensive process, so usually, recycled water is treated to the extent needed for its purpose. For example, water used to douse pastures for cows is not treated nearly so comprehensively as water piped to people’s homes. At Bolivar in South Australia, the treated effluent is collected and then treated as if it were drinking water, passing though filters and disinfection before travelling on to the garden tap at Mawson Lakes. In theory it could be drunk, although SA Water does not recommend you do, just in case.
Membrane filtration is a method gaining popularity amongst the water engineers. Filters can now remove even salt from the water. Microfiltration, nanofiltration, ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis (R.O.) are able to strain out ever more tiny particles from the water. R.O., the most rigorous filter, capturing anything bigger than 0.001 micrometres – or a billionth of a metre. Bacteria, by contrast, are lumbering giants at 1 micrometre; viruses measure up at 0.01 micrometres. So there is no chance of these pathogens appearing in water filtered by reverse osmosis. And yet many of these can be found in rainwater.
The downside to this super purity is the amount of energy required to pump the water through the membranes. Desalinated seawater using reverse osmosis was once famously described by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr as “bottled electricity”. Polishing wastewater with reverse osmosis would take the same, or at least very similar, amount of grunt. Thankfully, except where the wastewater was very salty, R.O. would not be necessary, ultrafiltration would be sufficient to remove bacteria and viruses from the water. And if you didn’t want even to use that, chlorine or ultraviolet light will dispatch the nasties so they don’t harm anyone drinking them.
Nonetheless, the electricity used in wastewater treatment is its biggest drawback. Even if the water passes through sand filters by gravity, pumps are still needed to get the water to, from and around the treatment plant and pumps use power. A lot of power.
If recycling were to be more widely adopted, significantly more energy would be required to bring the water up to scratch. Particularly for places like Sydney where the sewage treatment at some of their major plants is nothing more than a perfunctory straining before it is pumped out to sea.
Most sewage treatment works around Australia treat the waste more thoroughly than Sydney, especially since state government environment protection agencies were formed in recent years. The majority of treatment plants already spend a lot of energy cleaning up wastewater – just so they can dump it into the ocean or rivers without causing undue harm to the aquatic life. Bringing the wastewater up to reuse standard is often just one step extra.
For people like Anne Howe at SA Water, the decision to reuse much of the Bolivar water for Mawson Lakes and local agriculture was a no-brainer. “The wastewater has got to be cleaned up so you can dispose of it safely and not do damage to the coastal environment,” she said. “It’s the fact that we are, for environmental reasons, investing huge amounts of money to clean up the water before it is discharged into the ocean, and that seems a waste.”
Australia is a young country. For the 50,000 or so years before to Europeans arrived, there was more than enough water for the tiny population, which might have been as high as 1 million. Since that time, the population has soared to more than 20 million, to the point where the water supply in this dry continent is unequal to demand.
For decades, water has come from the sky, fallen into dams, travelled to people’s houses, and then passed through the sewer to the ocean. As the population grew, the engineers built bigger dams. When the sewers were affecting water quality on the beaches, engineers devised better water treatment. And so it grew, patch upon patch, engineering solution built on top of existing engineering solution of an otherwise old-fashioned system.
But now it’s clear the old ways of doing things won’t work any more. Australia’s population has ballooned 20-fold, and climate change is about to make things worse: where rain once was plentiful, it is likely to decrease. Cities used to high rainfall may no longer be able to depend on it.
Now is the time to walk away from the thinking of yesteryear and embrace the concepts that will assure the nation’s water supply into the future. The linear flow of water from sky to houses to sewers is not a sustainable practice. Better to ‘close the loop’ – as they say in the environment industry – and reuse the billions of litres we throw away every day.
Although Australians live on the driest inhabited continent, there’s enough rain falling to feed its burgeoning population. Sydney, a city of more than 4 million people, receives 1,217 mm of rain a year; Brisbane 1,146 mm. Even arid Perth gets 773 mm.
Drizzly old London, by contrast gets just 611 mm – and that is a city of 7.3 million. Yet London has not had water restrictions for 15 years. But then, London does drink recycled water.
Launching a stinging attack on critics of tough new garden bans, Ms Maywald said householders had been given a chance to prove they could responsibly use drip irrigation during Level 3 restrictions last summer – and failed.
“People were using sprinklers for the period allowed whether their gardens needed them or not, which was a waste of water,” she said.
As a result, Ms Maywald said gardeners could not be trusted to control their drip-watering as the drought bites harder this summer.
She revealed Adelaide’s reservoirs now held only nine months of water supply for “critical urban needs”, including drinking, showering and washing – and restrictions would tighten if the drought continued as expected.
“If drips were not banned, people would put them on during the prescribed times whether they needed to or not,” Ms Maywald said.
She acknowledged drip irrigation was an efficient watering method if not abused.
But Ms Maywald said the physical effort involved in filling a bucket, as opposed to simply turning a tap, would lead to far greater water savings, saying: “It is terribly inconvenient using buckets and watering cans and therefore people will use less water.”
‘”With buckets being difficult to use, people won’t be over-watering.”
The ban on drip irrigation, enacted on July 1, has erupted into a public debate this week as householders and the nursery industry revolt against being forced to use buckets to keep their gardens alive.
Thousands of gardeners have signed petitions at nurseries calling for the ban to be scrapped on the basis drip irrigation is far more efficient that bucket watering.
Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith said: “There is no sense, there is no science, there is only sadness in the water policy.”
Nursery and Garden Industry of SA industry development officer Cameron Baldock said: “With the use of timers – which we’re encouraging the Government to make compulsory for drip irrigation – this system is a long-term solution to our water supply problems.
“Drip irrigation is much more efficient use of water than buckets or watering cans.”
South Australian Farmers Federation president Wayne Cornish said rural people were bemused by the raging debate over drippers and buckets.
“City people are talking about a quality of life with their lawns and gardens while country people are talking about life itself,” Mr Cornish said yesterday.
River Murray irrigators said the debate to drip or not to drip was missing the point.
“Adelaide residents should sit down and think about the crisis our state is currently experiencing with our water shortage and ask themselves – do we want drinking water and water for food or are our gardens more important,” SA Murray Irrigators chairman Ian Zadow said.
“The prospect of a brown lawn for householders is a real possibility under Adelaide water restrictions – but they will still go to work on Monday morning.
“In the next two months, however, food growers will be walking off their farms unable to keep their production going.
“Regional towns along the Murray River are experiencing oncoming water shortages which will have huge impacts.
“The food-growing industry can look at not planting their vegetable crops or watching their fruit trees die.
“Unemployment will increase as food processing factories collapse and there will be little or no water to maintain ovals and parks.
“Do we use a bucket or hose on the garden? Well it doesn’t matter. The question is how do we best use our water for the whole of the state.”
SA Water said ban exemptions were available for physically incapacitated people and the elderly. Almost 10,000 Adelaide householders have been granted an exemption from existing water bans, according to SA Water.
Latest figures show Adelaide reservoirs are at 75 per cent capacity.
“Which means we have less than nine months of water supply for Adelaide,” Ms Maywald said.
“We can’t rely on rainfall in the Adelaide Hills catchment and if we are unable to get water from the Murray-Darling, then we can’t guarantee getting water into Adelaide homes next year.”
Brisbane householders have been living with a ban on sprinklers and drip irrigators since September 2005.
“And gardens died as a result,” South East Queensland Water Authority public affairs manager Mike Foster said.
“We got flak from the nursery industry and some people with large gardens complained but – although the general community weren’t happy – people supported the ban because it was about ensuring we had drinking water.”
The community support was evident in the fall in water consumption over the first 14 months of the bans being in place, Mr Foster said.
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