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a big dry « Previous | |Next »
May 14, 2005

The south east and western parts of Australia are currently enjoying unseasonably warm weather with temperatures about 2C to 3C above the average. The autumn rains are late in this part of Australia, very late. There have been no rains as we begin to move into winter.

Australia is vulnerable to the increases in temperature and decreases in rainfall projected for the next 50 to 100 years, because it already has extensive arid and semi-arid areas, relatively high rainfall variability from year to year, and existing pressures on water supply in many areas.

This is not good news for those parts of the parched southeast of Australia with their low water supplies due to what many say is the ongoing drought.


When I was having a drink in Manuka last Monday night after flying into Canberra I read an article in the Canberra Times about drought, lack of water and the town of Goulburn. Goulburn lies between Sydney and Canberra, and it is close to running out of water for its inhabitants. This situation of a big dry formed the core of my conversation with the waitresses, and again in the context of climate change with friends late Thursday afternoon, when we were waiting at the airport to fly back to Adelaide.

I remembered reading CSIRO modelling that says Australia's continental-average temperature has risen by about 0.7°C from 1910-1999, with most of this increase occurring after 1950. This increase will continue: by 2030, annual average temperatures wll be from 0.4 to 2.0°C higher over most of Australia; and by 2070, annual average temperatures will increase by 1.0 to 6.0°C over most of Australia with spatial variation.

The Canberra Times had a photo of a some water in a cracked and dried-out dam bed that once held a vast depth of water.This is the last of the drinking water, the shower water, the water to wash the dishes and laundry for the people of Goulburn.

The Australian has picked up the story. Amanda Hodge says:

With less than 2000 megalitres of water - less than eight months' supply - left in store, the town's situation is critical. And the drought has already played havoc with Goulburn's social fabric...This year, cherished public and private gardens are dead, the public swimming pool is about to close and footballers of all ages and codes are having to share the few rock-hard grounds still open.

Goulburn has few options to find more water. It can tap into a broken acquifer to would give it a few more months. It is unlikely to be able to build an emergency 8km pipeline to pump water back upstream from the Wollondilly River as Goulburn lies within Sydney's Warragamba Dam catchment area, and Sydney is also caught up in averting its looming water crisis.

So Goulburn will have truck water in for 22,000 people. That is expensive--too expensive for many. Presumably Goulburn is not recycling water and is not using treated effluent produced from wastewater plants. Time to become a little smarter.

Is it just the drought or natural variability?

The increase in termperature, lack of rain in winter, decreasing water and reluctance to shift to recycling is a familar story across parts of southern Australia. People continue to rely on the rains as the climate changes around them, even though Australia is heading into its third drought run, with 45 per cent of the nation drought-declared even before the large winter cereal crop is sown.

Climate change should be a dominant issue in planning Australia's medium and long-term future as Australia is 'vulnerable' since global warming will enhance the drying associated with El Niño events. Areas, such as WA's fast-growing Southwest Region, are places where significant impacts from global warming can be expected. The decrease in rainfall in WA's Southwest together with similar reductions on the southeast mainland, will lead to a further drying out across the country between now and 2070.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:19 AM | | Comments (8)


My thoughtful sister bought my wife a subscription to "Coast & Country" magazine which wings its way across the pacific to us each quarter. One of the stories is on the colonial grandeur of Goulburn. Plenty of pics of architecture with bright green cooch and yellow-green eucalypts.

The only non-green pic is one of an abandoned farm shed, but the tone of that picture matches the pretty blonde modeling "Thomas Cooke Clothing" on the opposing page.

I used to travel through the Southern Tablelands often. Beautiful country, hard to think it cant supply enough rain for its people. Like you said, it may require new thinking on water conservation. It appears that the lack of water is already having an effect;

Mayor [of Goulburn] Paul Stephenson says it is setting a benchmark for water conservation because residents are each using about 120 litres per day compared to the average of about 1,000 litres.

But Stephenson doesnt say whether this drop in usage is because the water is almost gone or not.

the reduced usage is because the water has almost gone.Amanda Hodge in The Australian reports:

The town's residents have been living with level five restrictions - no car washing, no outdoor watering, no swimming pools - since October...The council last week asked the town's major businesses, which consume almost 50 per cent of its water supply, to cut their use by 30 per cent..

There has been no future planning about this. The regimes of excessive water extraction have all been premised on ever more rains falling to make up the shortfall.

The future in Southern Australia is one of having to think in terms of not enough rain falling during the year to supply water for the towns, businesses and agriculture.

For some reason none of this is being connected to climate change. Few want, or do, make the connection. They place a big chasm between the less rain falling during the previous decade and the projected effects on the climate of southern Australia from global warming being much reduced rainfall.

It's bloody dry everywhere.

Here in Tas, we are buying water currently. The clouds come over, it spits a little and then they are gone.

It's been a great Autumn for ripening grapes but our water stocks are not good.

The Hydro's dams are even running low.

Course, we could all be rooned like Hanrahan insists.

Big Bob,

my partner Suzanne was in Tasmania a couple of weeks ago for a weeks holiday. She said that the country was very dry and that many of the trees were looking very stressed. By all accounts--eg., CSIRO modelling--this drier pattern looks to be the new normality for a slightly warmer Tasmania.

We had a bit of rain last night in Victor Harbor. It sure looked impressive on the weather map--the big gray circle patch swirling across South Australia, and the little symbol of cloud and rain over Adelaide.

Sure enough there was enough rain to wet the ground and give a fresh smell to the habitat early this morning. However, the creeks did not run from the storm water, and the newly planted trees in the reserve in front of the weekender still had to be hand watered early this morning. It is turning out to another warm subtropical day.

Since 1950, South Australia's average maximum temperature has increased by 0.17°C per decade. Compared to national trends, South Australian maximum temperatures indicate a faster rate of increase, while minimum temperatures show a slower rate.

Trends in South Australian annual rainfall since 1910 are generally less rain than other parts of the continent.Though most of the northern half of the State has experienced a slightly increasing rainfall trend, the southern coastal regions around the Eyre Peninsula, Adelaide and the far south-east of the State have experienced drying trends since 1950.

Adelaide is going to bake over the summer with the number of days of 35 degrees increasing from 10 to 11-16 by 2020 then 13-28 by 2070. That means lots more airconditioners on for a lot longer.

congratulations for blogging on this.
The indifference in Sydney and Melbourne to the hinterland is comprehensive.

'tis suprising that indifference, as both Sydney and Melbourne are facing water shortages, with Sydney not having enough water to meet future demand.

From what I can gather from reading the media the key policy approach to the water shortage is to say that household consumption is the decisive area for water preservation efforts.

Whilst households do need to become more efficient in the way they use water-- with proper showerheads, grey-water systems and other water-saving devices-- households only use around 11-13% of NSW water. Should there not be a greater emphasis on business to reduce its consumption of water and recycle it?

Like SA Water Sydney Water has an inherent conflict as a corporate business selling water, which makes it incapable of promoting measures like recycling, stormwater harvesting and demand management.

Didn't national competition policy require these water corporations to be broken up into different parts?

I would be interested in knowing if the current rainfall we have just had has increased the amount of water in your dam. I was currently watching sixty minutes and would be interested to find out if you got any rain. Hopefully you did. We certainly got plenty on the Gold Coast.
Could you please let sixty minuted know so we that live in other area's of this amazing country can feel a bit happier knowing your dam has water in it. thanks Gillian

When I was in Canberra during the last week of Parliamentary sittings I asked the taxi drivers if the recent rains that had come to Canberra and Sydney had fallen on Goulburn.

No was the answer. They'd only received a few drops. It was not enough to start filling the town reservoir.

So they remain in a desperate state.