Lessons learned during
Australia’s worst drought on record are helping California through its own
A new report released today shows that strategies
developed and mistakes made during Australia’s decade-long
millennium drought provide a powerful resource for California, as
the state enters its fifth year of severe drought.
Australian experience shows that investment in water conservation
options provided the cheapest, quickest and most effective
contribution to managing demand during the drought,” said Professor
Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures
(ISF), at the University of Technology Sydney. “Without them
many cities and towns would have run out of water.”
Drought: Learning from Australia, a report by researchers
at ISF, the Pacific Institute and the Alliance for Water
Efficiency, provides an overview of key events and initiatives
implemented in Australia’s four largest cities: Sydney, Melbourne,
Brisbane and Perth. The report was funded by the Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California, the San Francisco Public
Utilities Commission, and the Water Research Foundation.
Australia survived the millennium drought by demonstrating
world-leading innovation and water planning and management, said
Professor White. An important factor in the successes was
community involvement which rallied support to lower household
water demand to a target of 37 US gallons per person per
“California has made significant progress in
advancing water conservation and efficiency to cope with the
drought, but this report shows that more can be done,” said
Heather Cooley, Director of the Water Program at the Pacific
Institute, a global water think tank. The state has set
conservation targets and communities have implemented short-term
water conservation measures, such as restrictions on outdoor
watering. But according to Cooley “Australia made much larger
investments in water conservation and efficiency, which allowed
them to cope with the millennium drought and also reduce
vulnerability to future droughts.”
“In Australia, urban
water efficiency was the quiet achiever and California can
benefit from long-term structural changes in water use by
implementing similar water-efficiency measures,” said Mary Ann
Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency.
However, she said, the Australian experience also provided
lessons of what not to do. “We wanted to document in this
report lessons learned that can inform future decisions by
The New South Wales Government
had a policy of “readiness to construct” for its proposed
Sydney desalination plant on Botany Bay. However, that was
overturned and the contract signed when dam levels were
already rising. The result was a $US1.4 billion stranded asset and a
plant that is still in mothballs.
more flexible, modular and adaptable supply options – dams, major
pipelines, desalination plants, recycling capacity – can save a
lot of money and prevent the construction of stranded assets,”
said Professor White.
On top of successes in urban water
efficiency, other key findings in the report include:
- Broad community involvement across sectors – households,
business, industry and government – fosters a sense of fairness and
collaboration in saving water.
- Clear, credible communication
about the drought situation and response is needed to maximize public
participation and support.
- Innovative water-pricing mechanisms,
not employed during Australia’s millennium drought, could be used to
incentivize water savings in California.
Click here to register for the May 2 webinar on the report.
Click here to
download the full report.