The big dry is digging in its heels, made worse after a record hot summer. Water storages are down in every state and territory compared to this time last year, and WaterNSW reports Keepit Dam, north-west of Tamworth is down to one per cent active capacity, while other catchment areas across the state are at critical lows.
The last time we saw water stress on this level – during the harsh Millennial Drought from 1997-2009 – water security strategies changed across the country. As water storages fell to alarming depths and restrictions became part of everyday life, authorities looked to a number of solutions, such as behaviour changes, water-efficient appliances, rainwater harvesting and the construction of new water supply, such as desalination plants. However, these large-scale water facilities, capable of producing billions of litres of drinkable water, were not operational before the drought ended (and have only recently been switched on in a number of states after lying dormant for several years).
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also shows a jump in the percentage of households that installed rainwater tanks between 2004 and 2010, subsequently boosting the national figure to 26 per cent, about one in four homes.
Michael Smit, technical and sustainability manager at Kingspan Water and Energy, a division of global building products manufacturer, the Kingspan Group, says the water industry is in the midst of a debate over water provision. That is, what is more economically efficient and offers us better water quality and safety: large centralised infrastructure, such as dams, water recycling and desalination plants or a combination of much smaller centralised infrastructure and distributed solutions at the local level, through rainwater and stormwater harvesting?
‘Professor Peter Coombes and Kingspan Water and Energy are saying that the distributed solutions are much more efficient in some areas and that using a combination of utility water and distributed solutions offers real opportunities for our cities and buildings to work better within the urban systems,’ Michael says.
Harvesting rainwater has several benefits. It reduces the cost of water infrastructure across the urban system as well as stormwater management costs, and when combined with water-efficient appliances, it reduces household bills.