Slipping past us... down the pipe

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In but a few peoples calendars it seems are the words "National Water Week." Events such as these are often overlooked by the general public, but they can have huge impact in raising awareness around issues that affect us all. National Water Week is upon us, and we need to take heed of a very important message - water is the key to our survival.

Unfortunately it seems that national water week won't end with a bang ... but with a trickle.

The Water Services Association of Australia predicts that by 2030, if no conservation measures are taken and climate change and population growth continue as forecast, Australia's largest cities will be consuming 854 gigalitres more water than they use now - nearly double the water than the city of Melbourne uses in a year. This will be at the expense of our environment, rivers and agricultural production.

Parts of Australia are running out of water, the Murray Darling system is at its lowest levels in 116 years and most capitals in Australia have record low dam levels. Unfortunately it has taken the Government too long to wake up to this fact and we are now lurching from one crisis to another.

We need nothing less than a fundamental change in our attitude to our water resources.

While much is made about Australia being the driest inhabited continent on the planet, in actuality Australians have one of the highest per capita rates of water consumption in the world. Despite the combined impacts of drought and climate change we still have enough water to meet our needs if we can begin to use it wisely.

Neither Howard nor Rudd thought it necessary to mention the overall issues of water, drought and agriculture during their squabbling match on Sky News last Sunday. Governments need to implement long-term programs to tackle the problems head-on but what we are seeing is a lack of the clear leadership we need, to take us forward during times of change. For the sake of the environment and the economy we need a green change in the way we deal with water. Australians are screaming out for action on water management, drought-proofing and sustainable agriculture planning.

The current situation in the Murray Darling Basin is a case in point. Federal and State governments need to stop squabbling and collaborate on a whole of basin plan. While the CSIRO are undertaking a sustainable water resource audit and an agreement to set a cap on sustainable extractions is in place, the whole-of-basin plan won't take effect until after 2014 because it honours existing water sharing plans...

Simple measures at the domestic and industrial level can get us a long way towards sustainable water use. Water efficiency, conservation and rainwater tanks can lower household water use by 50-70%. We need to put in place planning regulations so that new developments have to meet stringent water efficiency targets and cannot go ahead in areas where the water simply isn't available. We also need to invest in helping households to install rainwater tanks and water efficiency measures such as low flow showerheads.

Check out the Save Water website for some fantastic tips and info on water efficiency, for both households and businesses.

We must develop a strategy to ensure the future of agriculture and rural communities in a shifting climate. This strategy must provide more certainty for farmers and address both food security and the need for practical assistance to adapt and thrive long into the future. These poor seasons are no longer 'exceptional' circumstances. What we are seeing is not just one of the worst droughts in history but a shift in our climate. It is unfair to keep landholders hanging on without putting real resources into helping them adapt.

There is no simple answer to this problem but we need a Government committed to taking action, regardless of the election outcome.