Aussies save water Down Under

After the worst drought on record, Brisbane residents in the past couple of weeks hit what is the new British target of 120 litres per person per day. But it has been a three-year long haul to get there from the 277 litres per person per day pre-drought. The Brisbane drought began in 2001 but it wasn't until May 2005 that water restrictions came into force. These restrictions were rapidly tightened by the State Government...

BRISBANE, Australia, Feb. 25, 2008 -- The gauntlet has been thrown. The challenge issued: How much water can you save?

After the worst drought on record, Brisbane residents in the past couple of weeks hit what is the new British target of 120 litres per person per day. But it has been a three-year long haul to get there from the 277 litres per person per day pre-drought.

The Brisbane drought began in 2001 but it wasn't until May 2005 that water restrictions came into force. These restrictions were rapidly tightened by the State Government so that by Dec. last year, businesses were required to cut water consumption by 25 percent or business best practice, residents were set a target of 140 litres per person per day and 800 litres per household, only those aged over 70 were allowed to water their gardens and that was only during a short window of opportunity on alternate days.

Car and driveway washing, filling of swimming pools, boat cleaning and other water activities that the city had taken for granted were banned. Pressure was on to limit showers to four minutes - in fact four-minute "egg" timers were distributed for free to all residences, and for $20 dollars water efficient taps, and shower heads were fitted and two leaking taps fixed in homes.

More than 80 thousand rainwater tanks were installed, funded partly by local and state government subsidies, and residents were urged to take their water saving strategies to work. Water charges were not increased, although there has been a dramatic increase in water infrastructure and the restructuring of water distribution organisation is planned.

A major contribution that prevented the dam storage levels dropping to below 16 percent was the initial voluntary contribution by several businesses, which were huge consumers of water, to cut their consumption, with many saving as much, or more, than 50 percent.

As one example, in what would be considered a live-saving effort as far as a some Aussies are concerned, a big Australian beer manufacturer is now saving the equivalent of more than 14.6 million stubbies over a five-day production cycle. These savings will reduce by almost half, to less than 2.2 litres, the amount of drinking water needed to make a litre of beer.

The two big water savers for the city have been the minor adjustment of businesses' air-conditioning and heating systems and the detection and repair of leaks on the private properties of residences using in excess of 800 litres per household. About 77 percent of those properties were found to have leaks.

Brisbane residences and businesses already had water meters so residents were educated to read the meters when their taps were off to identify any leaks.

However, a major contributor to water savings appears to be the desire for consumers to do their bit for the city, for their own future and perhaps to be part of the winning team.

So even when the rains came and added more than 15 percent to the water supply in a couple of weeks -- the people of Brisbane did not increase their water use, they in fact cut consumption even further to 120 litres per person per day.

It is difficult to measure all the reasons for such a drop especially as the biggest cut did not occur when the dams were getting lower, but when they were starting to refill.

However, the positive messaging was picked up by the media, which had become jaded by years of drought stories. The story ran with headlines claiming world-record status. This linked with an advertising strategy with congratulatory billboards claiming world-class status for water savings and reinforcing the Target 140 litres per person per day.

That was combined with a long-term sustainability message at a time when climate change was increasingly apparent.

The rains have come after seven long dry years, but the city is not rushing into water guzzling again, and only a handful of people have had to face fines for breaching water restrictions, despite stringent policing of water wasters.

###

More in Infrastructure Funding