High water consumption compounds drought

Australia's worst drought in decades is compounded by the nation's highest consumption rate recorded, according to Matthew Barker, an industry analyst in Frost & Sullivan's Water Group (www.frost.com).

Australia's worst drought in decades is compounded by the nation's highest consumption rate recorded, according to Matthew Barker, an industry analyst in Frost & Sullivan's Water Group (www.frost.com). Ninety-nine percent of New South Wales, Australia's most populated state, is affected by drought.

The Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) reports that Australia wastes 92% of its urban runoff and 86% of its effluent water. Per capita consumption of water tops the rest of the world, even surpassing the United States. The Sydney Catchment Authority reported supply reservoirs were 67.4% full in November 2002, having dropped from 71% a month previously. The government issued voluntary restrictions that advise against washing cars, sprinklers to water lawns and other non-essential uses.

Water shortages are not a major issue perceived by the average urban resident, but farmers are well aware of the stark reality. Crops are failing and livestock are dying. Barker reports that the effect of the drought on agricultural economy is so dire that "it has downgraded its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecasts from 3.75% to 3%. Now the nation's top farm group is leading a campaign for a new national water policy."

A long-term strategy for water resource management rather than a short-term fix is necessary now, he added (See "Australia needs sustainable water strategy").

Conservation, wastewater reuse and better management of water are the three main issues that Australia must address. In regards to reuse, stormwater, treated sewage effluent, treated industrial discharges, and grey water from domestic laundries and bathrooms can all be reused for irrigation and toilet flushing.

Nationally, 14% of all effluent produced in Australia is reused, but this share must continue to rise in order to cope with the current and future droughts of the world's driest continent.

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