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Basin plan is just the start

Monday, 28th November, 2011

By Paula Doran

As the long-awaited Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Plan finally reaches official release today, water experts around the country are stressing the need for sustainability in how we manage our liquid resources.

In a report released by the Australian Water Association (AWA) this month, a survey of national water leaders found that while many felt our domestic town supplies were being managed well, there was still great need for improved efficiency.

Paul Liggins from Deloittes said the report was the culmination of a year’s work and found that many water supply operators felt the sector was in general good health.

He said areas for improvement were outlined, however, with sector leaders stressing the need for improved efficiency and a price review to ensure costs were covered in their entirety.

“Undoubtedly, water reform is an area of unfinished business for many in the industry and many felt that the objectives of water reform are not as clear as they should be, particularly in urban areas,” said Mr Liggins.

CEO of the Australian Water Association, Tom Mollenkopf reiterated those thoughts.

“I sincerely hope that it is now recognised that we do not have an unlimited supply of water in Australia.

“The biggest issue confronting Australia when it comes to water is our climate.  It is the variability and volatility of water in Australia, rather than the lack of water, that causes our problems.

“Even in times like these, when the dam levels are up, it is important that we continue to raise the profile of key national water issues.”

Mr Mollenkopf said the solution to overcoming Australia’s complex weather systems was by diversifying the nation’s water resources, taking our reliance away from the one historical provision we have known previously to lessen the pressure by adding options.  

“Historically most cities rely on a single source of water -  generally capturing river water in dams - but now most cities have diversified supplies.”

And pundits say that while surface water has provided a reasonably reliable source of water for our population, the more regular droughts mean that we need to broaden our perspective on just how and where we get the water.

“These alternative sources could be groundwater, surface water,  storm water, recycled water, desalinated water or water from rain water tanks,” said Mr Mollenkopf.

Let’s look at the options in more detail:

 DESALTINATION:

To make sea water drinkable, salt must be removed. Costs are high in this process, but it is an option growing in popularity by the policy makers of the country. There are already “desal” plants operating in Sydney and Perth, with many more planned or in the process of construction around the country. Experts expect that this will be an increasingly popular option to boost water supply for populations struggling with drought in the future.

 RAINWATER TANKS:

A simple option in which every household in Australia can help bear the water consumption load. Depending on where the tank is, the water may not be usable for drinking but it may just solve the problems of other domestic use including laundry and garden consumption.

 RECYCLING WATER:

Wastewater, or blackwater, is water from households after it has been used, including that used in washing, cleaning and from toilets. In some areas of the country blackwater is reused, usually for non-human-consumption purposes such as gardening and toilet use.

 ICEBERG TOWING:

One of the more creative ideas. Some very clever types have suggested that Australia tow freshwater icebergs to be harvested for water use. And while there are icebergs reportedly melting all along the Antarctic Peninsula, the logistics of this make it a very challenging option. It’s very tricky apparently to tow a massive iceberg, half of which is under water, to an accessible processing plant. Watch this space!

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