Monday, 5 December 2016

Urban water management: lessons from Melbourne's experience of drought

Since the Millennium Drought of 2000-2010 (and particularly the devastatingly dry period of 2007-2010), Australians have significantly improved the efficiency of our water resource management. Much of the interest focused on reforms to rural water use, including the development of highly effective water markets in the Murray-Darling Basin.

But Australia learnt some really important lessons about urban water management too. In particular, in Melbourne, where I live, there was a real success story in achieving behavioural change to reduce water demand during the drought.

The 'Target 155' campaign urged all Melbournians to cut their personal water use to 155 litres per person per day, and this was a significant contributor to Melbourne's ability to survive the 2007-2010 drought without major cuts to industry and employment. Whilst increased water availability over the past five years has caused water use to drift upwards again (to over 166 litres per person per day), this is still considered low for urban use in a developed country. As the Target 155 is brought out again this summer, it's helpful to review just how powerful it was the first time around.

This article in the New York Times shows how important the behavioural change campaign was, and that one of the elements of success was working with the people of Melbourne, rather than imposing this limit on them.

The article is a really interesting read, and shows the crucial importance of tackling water demand rather than automatically (and only) reaching for supply augmentations (although Melbourne did both, by building the desalination plant as well as working to cut water demand).

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