Most Australian cities are experiencing a water crisis with all capital cities (other than Darwin and Hobart) on some level of water restriction. Australia is facing a hotter, drier future as a result of climate change. We need to start planning for less rain now.
We all know the story that Australia is the driest inhabited continent - yet Australians remain among the highest consumers of water per person in the world.
For too long we have relied on building more dams and pipelines to increase our water supplies. However, our water is a limited and precious resource, and with climate change dramatically reducing the amount of runoff into our dams, we can no longer rely on this approach to address our water needs.
Australian cities must turn around growing demand and put in place efficiency standards and incentives so that urban growth does not continue to demand a larger proportion of our limited water supplies. We need nothing less than a change in the way we think about our water resources.
The Greens believe that we should be investing in water conservation, demand reduction, water efficiency, stormwater harvesting and less rainfall dependent infrastructure such as water recycling... rather than dams and energy hungry infrastructure.
For example the over $1.5 billion proposed to be spent on the Traveston Dam could be invested in water efficiency and water conservation for homes in South East Queensland. This would deliver the same volume of water more securely at a cost of $1.15 per Kilolitre compared to $3/kl for water delivered by the proposed dam.
We cannot afford to rely on energy-hungry mega-projects - like large desalination plants or pumping water over huge distances to continue to feed our growing demand for more water.
We need to reduce our water use.
The Greens are setting a national water use target of a maximum 100 kilolitres perperson per-year by 2012. This in fact represents little more than winding back average personal water use to 1990's levels. Much greater domestic savings, in the range of 50% to 70%, are possible using integrated water management technologies.
Water efficiency standards for new houses should be set at this level now.
The Water Tight fund
In recent years awareness of the precious nature of our water resources has grown, and many Australian households are keen to reduce their use. The big challenge for most is the up-front cost of water-saving options and knowing which systems to choose. This is where Australian governments could make
a major difference by adopting smart green solutions and establishing a national fund to install integrated water efficiency and recycling systems. Therefore the Greens are proposing the establishment of the Water Tight Fund.
Water Tight is a fund which could be accessed by households to install certified water systems that meet high standards of water and energy efficiency and safety. Water users would then be paying a reduced water bill with a portion of the water cost savings paying off the installation costs through a reverse mortgage scheme. In this way the up front cost of the system would eventually be recovered (making the scheme cost-neutral in the longer term) while at the same time water users would be paying less and helping to save water. If the property is sold before full cost recovery the outstanding amount would be recovered at the point of sale.
The Water Tight fund would initially be targeted at particular areas that are facing water shortages and high water costs. The scheme ensures equity for low income households, who are currently discriminated against in rebate schemes, because they cannot afford the up-front costs.
There is an increasing range of domestic systems already available that can reduce household water use by 50% to 70%. Water efficient taps, showerheads and appliances are the first step, but much more can be achieved through integrated domestic water systems which incorporate rainwater tanks and fool-proof recycling and re-use systems. Smart systems that identify three levels of household water quality, and step water through from the shower to the laundry to the toilet or garden can significantly reduce both water and energy consumption.
New integrated water systems also allow us to monitor and control the temperature and pressure of water at the tap to ensure more efficient use.
What is needed is support and incentives for these kind of solutions to be rolled out across the country – a difficult feat when policy still lags behind need and few of us pay the real cost of the water we use.
The Water Tight Fund would enable households to access funds to install these
smart green solutions.
Making New Developments Water Tight
We cannot afford to continue planning and developing areas with no consideration of whether their locality can provide sufficient water resources to sustain them. It makes much more sense to require developers to investigate appropriate scaled solutions when they seek planning approval for new housing developments – particularly in water stressed areas (such as southeast Queensland). To this end the Greens believe that we should require new housing developments & industrial expansions to secure sufficient water allocations before receiving planning approval.
The most efficient and cost-effective solutions can often be found at the subcatchment or neighbourhood scale (between 100 and 1000 houses). Mid-scale stormwater capture and dual-pipe recycling schemes can reduce both water and energy consumption.
In addition we need to regulate the planning of new residential and commercial developments so that they are required to meet stringent efficiency standards. Using available technologies it is possible to achieve reductions of up to 70% in per capita water use in new housing developments.
Requiring new developments to source their water up front provides an incentive for them to recover water by the cheapest means possible – possibly by partnering in a retrofit scheme (domestic or industrial).
The principles and practices of water sensitive urban design offer the best way to tackle the sustainability challenge by reducing construction costs and energy use and integrating smart water use and re-use into the shape of our urban environment.
Making Industry Water-Tight
New industrial developments should also be required to meet efficiency standards based on industry-level best practice benchmarks for water and energy efficiency... with support and incentives for recycling and cost penalties for inefficient and profligate water use.
Fit-for-purpose industrial recycling schemes can provide some of the most cost-effective solutions. By substituting lower quality and less energy-intensive recycled water for industrial uses, they can free up drinking-quality water currently being used for industrial purposes.