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urban water planning « Previous | |Next »
June 30, 2009

Peter Cullen, who was thinker in residence in Adelaide in 2004, said in his Flinders Research Centre for Coastal and Catchment Environments Schultz Oration in late 2007 about water and climate change. I thought that I might revisit this in the light of the focus of the forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Ideas on limits.

Cullen draws attention to what is becoming increasingly obvious. He says that:

Much of Sth Eastern Australia is drying out and is now in serious water deficit. It is no longer prudent to believe this is a drought that is about to break. There is every likelihood that we are seeing real climate change and this must be a driver to let is start managing our water resources as thought they were a scarce and valuable resource upon which we all depend.

He adds that the consequences of southern Australia drying out is that:
The demands on our dwindling water resources are escalating. Everyone believes their use of water should be the priority. The environment has been largely sacrificed with the Coorong rapidly becoming like the Dead Sea. We are facing a crisis. There will be a horrible shakeout in rural Australia and our cities are going to have to lift their games in water planning.

Adelaide, he argues, is faced with reduction in water availability from both the Hills catchments and from the Murray River. To its credit, Adelaide has moved beyond hoping for rain to meet the 245 GL it needs per annum with its projected population increases. What, then are the best options to plan for water security into the future?

Adelaide has the following options for augmenting its water supply are to purchase water from upstream irrigators, desalination, recycling and groundwater. The first is unrealistic in the long term whilst groundwater is not an option because the groundwater in the Adelaide Plains is over allocated. That leaves recycling and desalinisation.

Desalinisation has been the primary strategy with water recycling a very distant second. Although South Australia has been a leader in using recycled water for irrigation it has not supplemented this strategy to use reclaimed water to relieve the pressure on the city’s drinking water supply. There is no recycling of grey water into Adelaide's drinking supply, and there is a minimal use of recycling storm water. There is about 160GL every year of storm water going out to sea and the best expert advice is somewhere between 90 and 110GL could be captured from that.

However, only 5 per cent of the capital program for SA Water is going into stormwater recovery. Existing harvesting schemes only yield 6GL a year, with projects already committed expected to generate an extra 12GL a year. The Water for Good plan states that greater Adelaide's stormwater use for non-potable needs, such as gardens and toilets, is planned to be 20GL of stormwater a year by 2014, 35GL a year by 2025 and 60GL a year by 2050. Moreover, only households in new suburbs will be supplied with the stormwater because of the expense of fitting new pipes.

That is a very slow response.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:03 PM | | Comments (6)


The Rann Government's Water for Good Plan is not online, even though it has been released. The water recycling projects going from this text include those at the Adelaide Airport, Riverside Golf Club, Old Port Road, Adelaide Botanic Gardens, Barker Inlet wetlands, and further stages of Waterproofing Northern Adelaide and Water Proofing the South.

The Greens water plan is here. Mark Parnell argues that Adelaide doesn't have a water supply problem; it has a water storage problem. Unlike other capital cities, Adelaide is blessed with an extensive network of underground aquifers that store up to 100 times our current capacity. The solution for our current water crisis is literally under our feet.

That is a fascinating document that you link to Gary.
Seems to be eminently sensible so I suppose its bound to be ignored.
I was interested in the estimated per capita daily domestic use of 280 litres and had a go at working out our use here. I reckon we are in the vicinity of 30, perhaps a max of 40, litres per person per day. Not counting the dog [you should see her drink!].
So doubtless there is room for lowering the city figure quite a bit.
I'd like to know a bit more about the demand management side.

do you mean Sustainable Focus: Report on Sustainable Water Options for Adelaide by Richard Clarke and Associates? They say that climate change is a reality and the focus needs to shift from knee-jerk drought response to longterm planning under expectations of a changing climate and future population growth. This is a time of great opportunity to move to more productive and efficient water systems. They concur with Cullen's analysis, as they say that:

Adelaide’s water supplies are at immediate risk with historically low flows in the River Murray and this will be a long term problem as climate change accelerates. Under expectations of continued population growth and climate change the traditional approach to water management can only lead to increased environmental and social damages and rapidly rising costs for water supply and discharge. It is obviously an inherently unsustainable direction.

They argue that demand management, stormwater harvesting, wastewater effluent re-use and rainwater tanks have the capacity to augment existing supplies from the Mt Lofty catchments into a next era of urban water management, that is specifically directed towards long term sustainability. Neither augmentation from the River Murray or from desalination of sea-water will be required.

Yep, that one Gary.
Good report I thought.
I liked their multi pronged evaluation of each method of getting water, measuring potential quantity gained /purity /cost /sustainability and environmental costs against each other.
Demand management stands out as the main avenue, potentially able to save 64 GLs a year which is significant, and I will try to follow that up for details.
There is an analogy, perhaps strained, with purportedly easily achieved electricity usage efficiencies that a couple of blokes are pushing on some of the blogs. Simple and readily available improvements in some of our devices eg pool pumps and fridge motors, can save enormous quantities of electricity, or so it is claimed. The comparison to demand management seems to be that there are simple methods of using a lot less water by better management. I'd really like to know the details of that, the report mentions some.
Clarke says that SEQ managed a decrease in per capita water usage from 300 litres down to 129 litres, the report describes demand management as 'highly cost effective with excellent environmental and social gains".
If SEQ can do it, so can we. My facetious comment about it being a good report and thus likely to be ignored is related to the SA govt's enthusiasm for desal, which Clarke describes as 'useful as a last resort", and an inbuilt cynicism.
The report deserves wide publicity.

re your comment about the demand side of water.
The Richard Clark Report is strong on demand management of the use of water. They advocate establishing:

a comprehensive long term demand management program with a residential target of 140 litres/person/day and a commercial/industrial target of 20% improvement in water use efficiency. As part of this, change the pricing structure for water by increasing the volumetric costs and reducing other charges to provide more incentive for users to reduce their demand to meet the overall target levels.

They include water restrictions, rainwater tanks and water efficient appliances to achieve a 50% reduction in the use of water. I'm not sure about the water restrictions especially when SA Water can take days to fix leaks in the mains.

I'm more in favour of better pricing of water than water restrictions, which I see as short term. As they point out the current pricing is most heavily weighted towards the lowest water users. They say that:

If a 50% reduction in household water use was targeted, the average household’s water bill would only reduce by 10%. Again, this provides little incentive for householders to reduce use and would likely soon reduce the momentum of any demand management plan.

It sure would!