Monday, January 29, 2007

Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink

In Australia we are increasingly being told to ‘save water’ with water restrictions understandably now in place. However, this is a bit like locking the gate after the horse has bolted. Why haven’t the media, and our government, been more active to do something about this issue? We are definitely getting more information than ever before which is great, but in my opinion the black and white facts of our current situation are not being made strongly enough or clear enough for the average, busy, information-overloaded viewer to really digest how dire the circumstances are.

If there is one item that should be on the news every night, this is it. At the end of 2006, our catchment areas [1] in New South Wales were only 37.5% full. As of today, a month later they are down to 34.8% full. [2] If the overall rate of monthly and yearly loss continues we have until 2008-2010 before we get to the ‘dams empty’ state. [3] This is not good obviously. I actually believe we aren’t going to get to the dams empty state because I believe in humanity’s ability to rise up with force when our survival is at stake. I am angry however that it has been more important for our government to spend money supporting an illegal, unethical, untruthful war in Iraq, than it is to make sure we all have drinking water in the future.

In case we need reminding, humans need two things to survive – oxygen and water. Surely they should be our number one priorities? Does it cost too much to have clean air and drinking water? Who cares! What use is a healthy economic climate if there are no people left alive to enjoy it?

When the issue is featured in the media, the greater balance of information is being geared toward the short-term band-aid solution of water restrictions, when in my opinion the long-term solution lies in a) working out how we are contributing to climate change, global warming and our ongoing drought and b) increasing our individual, state and national water storage facilities.

On point a) Australia and the US are two of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. Neither country has signed the Kyoto Protocol. According to scientists working on the final draft of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the world has just 10 years to reverse surging greenhouse gas emissions or risk runaway climate change that could make many parts of the planet uninhabitable. [4]

Regarding point b) only now are rainwater tanks mandatory in all new residential buildings. Most existing homes don’t have one. We may have a water problem, but I would suggest our bigger problem is that we aren’t catching the water we do receive as effectively as we could be. Quite often when it rains it doesn’t rain over the main catchment areas. The areas that do receive rain are for the most part unequipped with water storage facilities. The rain gods must be looking down on us with amazement at our inability to co-ordinate ourselves so that we can adequately secure their gifts.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to increase the number of water collection and storage areas – rather than relying on saving the few drops we have left and hope it doesn’t run out eventually? Now, rainwater tanks can be expensive, many backyards are too small to fit the prescribed size and some of us don’t have a backyard, so it’s not necessarily feasible to make every individual home get one. However, most homes with a backyard could fit a rainwater barrel at least?

My grandmother has spent the majority of her life on a farm and has always had barrels and buckets outside to catch the rain. This can be used to water the garden, wash the car, supply the washing machine or for flushing the toilet. Most farmers do this because farmers know how precious this resource is, and what happens when we don’t have it. On a larger scale surely we have government, commercial or industrial land that could be used to build underground water storage tanks? Yes it comes at a financial cost, but the alternative cost is far greater.

We all know how our Prime Minister feels about the threat of terrorism, but do we know how he feels about the fact we are predicted to be the first country to run out of clean, drinking water? How do you feel about that? Now that we are in the last emergency minutes we are scrambling for a solution, including being in the midst of political and public debate regarding introducing an unpopular recycled water plan, and potential desalination plants along our foreshores.

If you aren’t an Australian let our country be a lesson to you in what not to do, don't leave critical issues till the last moment! Admittedly we’re a desert island so we had some challenges to start with but no excuses, we’ve always known we’re prone to drought and just didn’t do enough to address that fact. More sadly we made an already arid environment worse by giving priority to economic growth, industrial expansion and military spending over taking care of the environment and our natural resources. With enough information however, ordinary people will and are now addressing this issue. Perhaps this is the turning point we have needed to create a country and a world that lives in harmony with nature. It is the trigger we needed to start living with greater consciousness and awareness of the consequences of all our actions.

Dana Mrkich (2007)


[1] “A catchment is an area where water is collected by the natural landscape. In a catchment, all rain and run-off water eventually flows to a creek, river, lake or ocean, or into the groundwater system. Natural and human systems such as rivers, bushland, farms, dams, homes, plants, animals and people can co-exist in a catchment. Healthy catchments provide: a source of clean drinking water; unspoilt natural areas for recreation and scenic enjoyment ; habitat for plants and animals ; healthy vegetation and waterways ; reliable and clean water for stock and irrigation, and opportunities for sustainable agribusiness and industry” – Sydney Catchment Authority

[2] Sydney Catchment Authority Weekly Bulk Water Storage and Supply Report:


[4] Leake, Jonathan, Jan 29 2007, 'Ten Years to Reverse Global Meltdown', The Sunday Times, London, UK

1 comment:

  1. I think that you and your readers may be interested in looking at our web site and looking in particular at our web page "Whats News"
    It has links to lots of interesting articles by the likes of John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull, Anna Bligh, Jeff Seeney and the likes. It also has some interesting information on Desalination, Dam levels, Endochrine disruptors, Singapore recycling and other relevant and topical articles.
    Thanking you in advance for your time
    Geoff Carr