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Adelaide + water shortages « Previous | |Next »
September 5, 2007

There is a danger that Adelaide could run out of water by the summer of 2008-09 after disappointing rains this winter failed to recharge the city's main supply from the Murray River. Little rain means little runoff. The possibility of the South Australian capital forced to rely on emergency supplies of water from January 2009 can be averted only by well-above-average rainfall next winter in the Murray-Darling Basin.

However, the chances of the city's estimated eight months of storage being replenished before next winter are fading because the likelihood of above-average rain over the next three months is low.


The implication is that we are now running the system on inflows without any dams. Where is the water going to come from in the future? How come Adelaide has not planned for alternative water supplies, including desalination, water recycling and stormwater harvesting?

The Rann Government has been hot on publicizing climate change but has done no planning for water apart from restricting demand for water in the form of a bucket-only watering policy. This is in such a contrast to Western Australia, which is approaching the water scarcity problem with a long-term solution in mind Perth has a desalination plant that has been operating since November and has the capacity to deliver 45GL/annum. By 2011 another plant there will deliver an additional 50GL/annum with possible upgrade to 100GL/annum. That 95GL is equivalent to about half what SA Water delivers to Adelaide each year.

Why not Adelaide? Why is a taskforce just looking at this? Where are the plans for storm water retention and recycling? Why isn't the Rann Government being pro-active to take advantage of the opportunity to become a world leader in water management and then export our expertise and solutions across the world?

Update:6 September
Darryl Gobbett, an economist writing an op-ed in The Advertiser says:

Adelaide needs to turn off its Murray tap and leave this valued water resource to our state's irrigators and rehabilitation of the river. We must look more closely at desalination plants and place more focus on harvesting the city's rainfall, recycling, making our water distribution more efficient as well as getting the right price structures in place. Adelaide should be securing its own core independent water supply and possibly building three or four water desalination plants over the next five years, harnessing stormwater and increasing recycling.

Gobbett rightly points the finger at the Rann state government. He says that the State Government's blinkered focus on cutting water consumption by merely turning off the taps is hampering SA's long-term ability to solve the water crisis, and:
The State needs to adopt a new mindset to solve its water crisis. By putting all our eggs in the Murray basket, we are closing our minds to market-based and technological solutions on our doorstep. There is also no certainty the other states will continue to let the water flow even if it rains heavily. We should be under no illusions – they will look after their own businesses, farms and householders first for power and water.Already water restrictions in the eastern states have reduced their electricity generation. We need an independent solution.

What we have is an incompetent Government that is unable to plan long term for water infrastructure investment . The State Government's long-term strategy for the state's water supply has been to pray for rain while tinkering around the edges. This has resulted in the imposition of harsh water restrictions as a means of conserving existing supplies.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:02 PM | | Comments (10)


i wonder if there are any circumstances short of imminent death that will awaken ozzies to the need for democracy.

on present form, they'll be saying: "please sir, may we have food/water/a place to sleep" right up to the end. it can only be genetic.

Infrastructure (other than roads) has been a dirty word for many years, fueled by the 80s mantra that 'planning is Communism!'. Combine that with the overwhelming ignorance of politicians and their staffers about ecological issues and you have a recipe for disaster.

Here in Qld democracy has been responsible for some of the holdups. People don't want recycled or desalinised water, they don't want more dams, they don't want water sharing between districts and they don't want more pipes to transfer water around. They also complain about having their water usage monitored.

It seems that you's will be up shit creek soon. Perhaps the powers listened to the guys that said that the desalination plant would damage the sea environment. From what I see you have 2 very small desalination plants one on Kangaroo island that cost $500,000 that does little more than provide a large swimming pool of water per day. Bad planning! The Gold coast plant is on track to provide the total water needs of the area under Level 5 restrictions.

I think that the word "drought" should stop being used now. It implies something temporary until the rains come. Yet the drought continues and continues.

What we actually have is the normal conditions of a permanently drier future. Autumn rains with nothing in winter. It's already hot in Adelaide. We can sense the summer coming.

It's the many farmers who stay optimistic and believe that conditions would return to normal--ie., the rains will return. They seem to be in denial about the drier conditions in south eastern Australia due to global warming.

The press is saying that South Australians should prepare for water restrictions for up to 10 years because the state is unlikely to ever fully recover from the current drought. As the "drought" rolls on it's going to take longer and longer for the river to recover unless there are consecutive years of above-average rainfall to replenish the storage facilities that provide a few year's worth of supply security.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission chief executive Wendy Craik yesterday told The Advertiser that South Australians would have to accept restrictions on the use of water as a way of life.

Oddly enough Dr Craik is still talking in terms of the "drought" having created an 'unprecedented situation' of low storages and low inflows and it being uncertain when this drought would end. This is no drought. It's the effects of global warming.

It now appears that Adelaide and Brisbane are the most vulnerable in a warmed up world. However, the SA Government has done nothing to reduce Adelaide's dependency on the River Murray, and it not planned to build alternative supplies to ensure water security.

Adelaide has a major problem on the horizon. It has enough water to get through the summer, but there's nothing left after that.

you are right. Unlike Beattie In Queensland the Rann State Government has failed to outline a credible, short-term and long-term policy for the continuous and reliable supply of potable water to every SA household.

The public argument about whether to water the garden with buckets or drippers whilst a taskforce looks at the possibility of a desalinisation plant.

The one you refer to is an old one at Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island. Rann has backed a desalination plant at Port Bonython to supply the proposed Olympic Dam uranium expansion, Upper Spencer Gulf and Eyre Peninsula. But this project stemmed from the mine's forecast demand.

There has been talk from the Government of a desalination plant for Adelaide and, as they say, appropriate investigations are continuing. It is hard to escape the perception that too little is being done too late to deal with a problem that was becoming obvious years ago - that the River Murray can no longer be relied on to supply Adelaide's water.

There is talk of shipping water from NZ up here. I don't know at what price that would make it.


Ah, Kiwi water. We should be so lucky. A lengthy and authoritative study in which I surveyed 2 other members of my family just now has concluded that Kiwi water is wetter and tastes colder than our water. Even at room temperature.


The Beattie circus deserves far more praise than it gets for how it's handled water. It would have been much easier and cheaper to keep talking drought talk but they didn't. There's also massive quantities in the north that they could have used as an excuse to do nothing, but they didn't.

We've had restrictions and constructions of all sorts, as well as lavish public education campaigns, which all helps. We even got free 4 minute timers to stick on our shower walls and stickers for appliances like dishwashers and washing machines. We're allowed to use greywater which we weren't before.

They haven't just built stuff to meet demand but done all they could to reduce demand and encourage people to come up with their own solutions. There are still pockets of resistance, but the whole culture of water is changing up here.

It will take longer than one summer for SA to achieve that. It sounds as though you guys are in for a scary time.

Read an article in Fairfax last night about Turnbull under fierce attack from Beattie for reneging on a "water auction" he previously sanctioned on another tributary to the Darling.
Less than a week after the weather prophets issued their September bulletin advising that Southern Australia is in deep drought, Beattie is screeching because Turnbull has stopped him diverting yet more water to new cotton farms similar to notorious Cubbie Creek?
Down here, we can't even water vegetable patches with efficient "drip", because the the state government has in effect sanctioned the continued ransacking of the Murray Darling by upstream states. They have obviously effectively agreed to bankroll them further by bleeding us, instead!
And not a dicky bird as to "follow up", from South Australian media?
Yes, I know Turnbull is trying "wedge". But am really sick of the utter wilful denialism of state ALP governments, as to environment and "developer" corruption.
Those who should have been most enlightened, from Tasmania to Queensland to SA, have proved at least as ignorant and reactionary redneck on environment as the worst of the Hansonists and Nat/Libs.
I desperately want to vote Labor because of the "W..........s" IR debacle.let alone a raft of other issues, but am so utterly antagonised by them over ecology that am even contemplating the Coalition for the first time ever, if Turnbull starts making more concrete commitments as to specific environment issues.