Mad Australians. Will they ever learn that water don't fall from the sky?
May 5, 2007 1:01am CST
Australians are some of the world's greatest energy consumers, and people in Perth use more water than any other city in Australia. Yet theirs is also the driest climate in the world, and Perth sits right on the edge of a vast desert, an island of greenery in the form of European style parks and gardens. Consumption paradox The city's case is a fascinating paradox of over consumption matched by a dawning awareness of climate change that is resulting in an urgent response to safeguard the city's water supplies for the future. Perth sits above a vast ancient aquifer of 40,000-year-old water that has traditionally been the main source of drinking water. But in the mid 1970s there was a dramatic shift in climate that resulted in a decline of between 15% and 20% in winter rainfall. The combination of rising temperatures and a lack of wet winters has meant a steady decline in water levels in the aquifer and they are not being recharged. By the mid 1990s, scientists realised they were facing more than a prolonged drought, that this was in fact climate change. Don McFarlane, of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), says: "Climatologists tell us that it is the most profoundly affected city in the world. People have accepted that it is climate change. "In other parts of the world people are thinking it's something that's going to happen to them in the next 10 or 30 years and that they've got time to adjust. We've found we've been living with it for 30 years now and we're having to adjust very quickly." City of industry Although perhaps the residents of the city have been slow to respond to the threat of climate change, there has been intense pressure on water experts to find new sources of water for the city. Perth is growing rapidly thanks to its thriving mining industry and the population will soon top two million people, attracted there by a high standard of living. The city is made up of suburbs that stretch for more than 70km along the coast of the Indian Ocean. People consume a lot of energy. It is a car-dependant city with little public transport. Many of the luxury houses overlooking the ocean (known locally as "starter mansions") boast currently fashionable black roofs that soak up the heat in temperatures of up to 42 degrees in summer, and produce a greater need for air conditioning inside. (Anyone with a black roof in Australia has to be a mad person). Almost no-ones buys a black car... why do they buy a black roof? And, ironically, although it's a desert climate, Perth prides itself on being a garden city, boasting vast expanses of beautifully kept lawns and parks complete with water hungry plants and flowers. And many residents can extract water for these gardens directly from the aquifer. There are over 150,000 unlicensed boreholes in Perth's back gardens that allow householders unlimited access to groundwater for watering. Yet the Water Corporation is reluctant to clamp down on private water usage even though before current restrictions people were often watering their gardens in the middle of the day when the water was most likely to evaporate and be wasted. One gardener we spoke to for Costing the Earth told us that 90% of his water usage is for his garden and that it would break his heart if he ever had to stop watering and give up his beloved green lawns. But Pierre Horwitz, associate professor of ecosystems at Edith Cowan University, Perth, questions why drinking water is being used for gardens to such an extent and says people have got to start using less water. "If you compare our individual consumption rates, they're almost a third higher again than those in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. You just can't continue to sustain that." Horwitz says people have been too complacent about the availability of water because of the vast ground water resource. "We're actually mining water. This is a non-renewable resource and we have to constrain our behaviours so that we use what's replenishable rather than eat into our reserves." Once upon a time... water used to fall from the sky. But thanks to our climate change... it does not anymore. Not in Australia.
3 people like this
5 May 07
Hi Aussie, Wow I did not realize some of this information that you have said here in regards to Western Australia, your discussion here explains a lot and I really do appreciate what you have quoted here. Oh there has been rain Aussie but just not enough especially in the rural areas that is where the main problem lies.
6 May 07
I did not know either until I did find that article on the BBC website. Fancy Perth using underground water during all those years. Yes we had a bit of rain... but it only keeps the grass green for two or three weeks... until everything goes yellow again. Here in Mudgee... we are experiencing a never ending drought.
8 May 07
Gee... even on other parts of the world I believe water is getting scarse, our reserves are to be used wisely indeed and warming is also global. Did you know that a bottled water the one they claim with oxygen is sold here in our place at 125 pesos per 8 oz size?