Getting the Water Thing Right

As long-time blog readers will know, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about water restrictions for some time. A short opinion piece in today’s SMH expands on some of the arguments I made in a blog entry here last November, and adds a few more. In a nutshell, I argue that we should abolish water restrictions, and set the right price for water. Incidentally, this isn’t unrelated to a recent suggestion that Sydney might want to find a few more water supply sources.

Alas, I suspect that most of the SMH readers who might have been outraged enough to write in and condemn me are more likely to be experiencing schadenfreude over the latest twist of the Abbott affair. Blood is, after all, thicker than water.

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6 Responses to Getting the Water Thing Right

  1. Sylvia Else says:

    In any case, over the past six years, Sydney has consumed twice as much water as has been received in the resevoirs. Minor adjustments in water consumption resulting from water restrictions as simply nowhere near sufficient to deal with the problem if what we have seen is the result of a long term climate change. To expect the long term average rainfall to double would be a triumph of hope over experience.

    Fitting new low level pumps to the dams was just a waste of money. They will only get used when Sydney is already in dire straits as regards water. There was no purpose served by installing them yet, and they may never be used. It was just an expensive political stunt.

    Rainwater tanks are an extremely expensive way of getting fresh water, when all costs are included. In any case, there is not enough roof space in Sydney to solve the problem that way.

    Diverting water from the Shoalhaven river when it floods (which of course, it does frequently during periods of drought) is not sufficient either. The maxium proposed extraction of 100 gigalitres per year is nothing compared with Sydney’s current 270 gigalitre per year shortfall.

    Water recycling is a non-starter unless it can be made potable, because the distribution infrastructure does not exist, and retrofitting it is more expensive than the one known effective solution, desalinators.

    I think we should build desalinators, wear the increased price of water (which would be about $1.70 per kilolitre overall, or about $7 per person per month), and let people use as much water as they’re willing to pay for. If people are really disadvanted by that, they can be compensated.

    Oh, and this doesn’t even require new power stations, because the desalinator can be turned off during peak power demand periods.

    Sylvia Else.
    Naturist Lifestyle Party (NSW).

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    Sylvia, thanks for a fascinating comment. On recycling, I thought there were two proposals floating around: making it potable (which I confess makes me shudder a bit), and getting it to industrial standards and then setting up pipes to take it to a relatively small number of high-volume users. Malcolm Turnbull seems to be plumping for the latter option ( But you sound like you think that’s as commercially feasible as Colin Barnett’s WA canal.

  3. Dave says:

    I think desalination would be irresponsible. Given that the cause of our present low water supply may be global warming, it doesn’t make sense to me to obtain water from a source that is going to increase our greenhouse gas emmisions. Building new dams would probably be more environmentally responsible than desalination unless it was powered by a carbon-free power source like wind or nuclear. Personally I think recycling is the way to go for the short to medium term.

  4. Sylvia Else says:

    I think what worries me most about the water debate is how much of the discussion is of a purely qualitative nature. If recycling for industrial use is practical (at a cost less than other alternatives for producing usable water), then it should be done anyway. However, if it’s being presented as a solution to our water crisis, then we need some hard numbers on how much of our current water consumption could be replaced that way. As I’ve indicated, at present our water consumption is double the available supply. Such a deficit is not going to be dealt with by relatively small scale water substitution, though clearly such solutions are helpful.

    The power consumption requirement for a desalination solution for Sydney represents about 3 to 4 percent of the total NSW power consumption. There are obviously some global warming ramifications, but we do not have the option of not solving the water issue.

    I’m afraid that new dams are not a solution. You only have use for a dam if the current supply exceeds the current consumption, and you want to store the water against a future dry period. We are nowhere near being in that situation. At the moment, any available supply could simply be consumed as a substitute for taking water from the existing half full reservoirs.

    Beyond the proposal for industrial level recycling, the only way (non potable) recycling could make any real dent in our consumption would be if a recyled water network were retrofitted to a huge portion of Sydney’s residential properties – including into the buildings themselves. I haven’t seen costings for this, but just thinking about it makes me blanche. Further, to be a solution to the current crisis, this would have to be achieved within two or three years at the most. We’re talking about digging up most of Sydney’s residential streets, and probably a good many main roads (where do the major water mains run, exactly?), within that time frame. I just can’t see it.

    Potable recyling remains a practical proposition – just not a politically acceptable one.

    Sylvia Else
    Naturist Lifestyle Party

  5. A bill just popped up in the APH digest today to allow the increase of the levy on the rice industry to $3 per tonne.

    It is getting upped as the tonnage has dropped with the recent droughts. Rice is the most water intensive agricultural industry in Australia. That levy is also used for R&D for the rice industry. Would your idea of paying for water extend to agriculture as well?

  6. Yobbo says:

    Obviously it should. Even if it means the end of the Australian rice industry. Plenty of our neighbours produce rice. If it’s cheaper to import than it is to produce without the huge water subsidy, then so be it.

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