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limits of water restrictions? « Previous | |Next »
March 11, 2007

The reserves of water for our capital continue to drop and the the next level of restrictions are due to cut in, which mean banning the outside use of water by domestic users. Melbourne's water storages are at 34.1 per cent, while the trigger point for stage 4 is 29.3 per cent. Storage levels are estimated to fall at a rate of 0.5 percentage points a week. Everyone is hoping for the autumn rains .

What I continue to find surprising, especially in Melbourne, is the policy of Brack's state government to restrict the domestic use to achieve a cut in water consumption --even to the point of having water officials patrolling the streets of Melbourne. Yet the savings achieved are but a drop in the ocean compared with industrial and farming use. Whilst people stand in the shower with a bucket so they can have water for their gardens industry and agriculture are not required to reduce their use of water.

As this report in The Age indicates Melbourne households are bracing for a compulsory total ban on watering gardens under stage 4 restrictions, that is likely to be in force in May. Whilst Melbourne households contemplate targets to cut consumption by 17.5 per cent

Industry will be asked to reduce water usage by just 1 per cent a year over the next 10 years asunder tougher water restrictions...In a move that puts increased pressure on domestic users, the demands on business are described by the State Government as "aspirational". This means industry will not be forced to achieve the 1 per cent saving and there will be no punishment for businesses that fail to meet the target....Industry and agriculture [which] use up to 30 per cent of Melbourne's water and industry [are] yet to face specific curbs on water use.

There is no balance of equitable sacrifice in this. Where is the greening of production? Why cannot industry recycle the rain water and the water that it uses?

The National Party isn't interested in taking real action on Australia’s water crisis. They have been opposed to any purchase by the Commonwealth of over-allocated water entitlements and refuse to accept that the problem of over-allocation was the most serious issue in the Murray Darling Basin. The big irrigation interests have been effective in lobbying the National Party to block this reform.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:08 AM | | Comments (7)


it can only get worse as SE Queensland continues to grow due to people migrating from Victoria and NSW in large numbers. The Gold Coast's water needs, for instance, are expected to increase from approximately 185 million litres per day (185 ML/day) in 2005 to about 466 million litres per day (466 ML/day) in 2056. Given that the drought, coupled with decreases in anticipated yield from dams, then the Gold Coast cannot rely solely on its dams for its water needs. So it is critical to adopt a diverse range of water sources to secure long-term water supply.

Pricing is better than water restrictions as a long term strategy. I see that the emphasis re restrictions is on households and not business--just like Victoria.

I see that Beattie has flagged a complete takover of water assets from local councils. Is he compensating for the failure to deliver key water infrastructure (eg. a Gold Coast desalinisation plant, or pipelines connecting the Sunshine and Gold Coast to Brisbane)? Or is it a response to the councils opposing Beattie's attempt to pass on the $9 billion costs of water infrastructure to ratepayers?

There is a lot of politics being played around water.

The desalination plant is expected to be producing in a couple of months I think.
I think Gold Coast water is doing a good job.

In Canberra, where I live, the price of water has been increased to compensate the ACT water reticulator for decreases in revenue arising from water restrictions. This is an amazing situation, where price is used not to reduce consumption, but to maintain the bottom line of the reticulator (ACTEW). And if this were not bad enough, a large part of Canberra water bills consist of fixed charges - a "supply charge" and an "abstraction charge" (which is just resource rent), so that the effect of price on consumption is actually geared down, not up. The game is pretty clear - consumers can afford it, so hit them up for revenue and call it conservation.

Realistically I cant see why water should not be equal in price to power or there abouts. For the household market anyway.

similary in SA. The concern of the water corporation water -SA Water- is to increase revenue and profits from the sale of River Murray Water. The Rann Government still expected a dividend from SA Water.

I understand that, as with SA Water, there is a clear conflict between the roles of ACTEW as contracted to manage the Government's water conservation program and its business enterprise role of revenue making.'

With respect to ACTEW: --The ACTEW Corporations Statement of Corporate Intent 2005/06 to 2008/09 is contradictory: it states an increase in revenue from 2006-07 onwards when it has clearly stated that it will work with the Government to reduce mains water consumption.

How does it reconcile the two? Actew managing director Michael Costello states that:

In setting the water price, the regulatory commission takes into account Actew's assets and determines an appropriate return, based on the supposed value of those assets. That return is currently set at 7.1 per cent, and the cost of water is calculated - based on expected usage - to give that return to Actew.But, should water restrictions reduce the water used in the ACT, the commission can increase the price of water for subsequent years to compensate Actew.

Costello reckons that this removes the conflict of interest.

the existing restriction and pricing regime assumes water shortages are the exception rather than the rule. Water shortages are in the process of becoming the rule rather than the exception. With increasing demands for water, and likely climate change indicating less rainfall and markedly less runoff, there is a need to consider all alternative approaches to meeting our needs for water.

Canberra, like Adelaide, was designed on an English model, with gardens, lawns and nature strips that need regular watering.It was also designed around 19th century ideas of water planning with a large sewage treatment work as far away from people at the downstream part of the catchment. It's poor mangement of the water catchment area of the Googong Dam has meant a proliferation of rural subdivision, and hence small dams in the catchment. Much of this water is now lost through evaporation.

Actew in ACT uses two mechanisms to moderate water use: price and regulation. Price is a particularly blunt instrument. The water abstraction charge, for example, doesn't go back into the cost of managing our water resources, it just adds to ACT revenue. And it is fixed, so doesn't reward reduced use.

The other method for conserving water is restricting use, with sanctions. Water restrictions are only effective if everyone adopts them. They are a classic example of the "tragedy of the commons", where individuals must adopt a communitarian approach, since changing their behaviour for "the greater good" may not bring personal benefit. "Free riders" may benefit from other people cutting back their water use.

However, Canberra has led Australia in capturing stormwater, and holding it in urban lakes to provide recreation, aesthetic and nature conservation values.