It is a great concern that Melbourne's water storages have just dropped below 30% for only the second time since the severe 1967 drought.
Looking at Melbourne Water's information on our reservoirs and consumption, we have about 320 days of water until we get to 10% levels if we continue to consume water at our current rate. 10% could be a realistic minimum amount as it could be problematic to get access to or use remaining water below this level. If no significant rain falls, Melbourne will effectively run out of water by March 2008.
Yet with an apparent crisis looming, there is scant provision to address our water shortage in the Victorian State budget just announced by Treasurer John Brumby, despite windfall income from gambling revenue.
The best that Minister Thwaites can tell us is that the Government is still “looking at options”. It is time for action, not more reviews.
Two possible options for managing and conserving our water are:
- Introduction of a “luxury use” premium for water used in excess of normal household usage, or;
- A domestic water trading scheme similar to that used for agricultural irrigators could be introduced for households. Such a scheme could effectively establish a market price for scarce water. Households could have a non-tradeable allocation so that reasonable domestic use is covered, and a tradeable allocation that could be on-sold. Tradeable allocations could also be reduced in times of drought.
At this point in time, there are no significant financial incentives for those who do the right thing and install large water tanks, and people are still topping up domestic swimming pools that lose a lot of water every day due to evaporation.
A family of four can normally get by with about 25,000 litres of water storage. Most domestic swimming pools contain significantly more water than this – up to 50,000 litres is not uncommon.
Perhaps it is time that domestic pools are converted for water storage purposes rather than used for recreation.
Some real action on and funding for addressing the causes of climate change such as reducing our huge greenhouse gas emissions could also help address the causes of the drought.
Note: an edited version of this letter was published in The Australian on Saturday 5 May, 2007