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Water crisis affects urban Australia -

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Water crisis affects urban Australia

Reporter: Matt Peacock

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Michael Brissenden. We saw on this program last night up close the
devastation Australia's water crisis is causing the outback town of Bourke, a picture replicated
throughout much of Australia's bush. But as most city dwellers know only too well, the record
drought, with the spectre of climate change behind it, has struck home in urban Australia too.
Across the nation, governments are promoting "wiser water practice" in the home to cut back on
demand, while environmentalists are urging greater use of rain water tanks as an alternative to
dams and many farmers are increasingly being encouraged to call it quits and sell their water
rights to their city cousins. Matt Peacock reports.

ROSS YOUNG, WATER SERVICES OF AUSTRALIA ASSN: On any measure, this is an extreme drought. Climate
change has hit in a much more dramatic manner that what we ever anticipated.

MATT PEACOCK: Around the country the picture's the same dams which historically provided nearly 99
per cent of the country's urban water have fallen to record low levels and there's less water
coming in, prompting alarm in cities both big and small.

KEN GRANTHAM, SHIRE SERVICES, WYONG COUNCIL: We have about 16 months supply in our dams if we
didn't get any further run-off.

ROSS YOUNG: As we go around Australia, each of the cities has faced an incredible reduction in the
inflows to their storages.

MATT PEACOCK: Even in good times Australian dams must capture roughly six times as much water as
dams in Europe need for the same yield because of erratic rainfall and high evaporation. But these
days the rain's hardly falling and virtually every urban centre has been experiencing a record
water shortage.

WA GOVT ADVERTISEMENT: Even though we've received some rain during the last few weeks, we're still
well below the average for winter. We need to save every drop.

MATT PEACOCK: Meteorologists agree that climate change is already happening and it's happening far
sooner than they feared.

ROSS YOUNG: The CSIRO predicted what we're actually experiencing now about in about 2050. So this
has really been a dramatic change, it's been a wake-up call for the whole industry and if we get a
repeat of this into the whole future it really is a quite scary scenario.

MATT PEACOCK: Ross Young is the executive director of Water Services Australia, representing the
water suppliers to 15 million urban dwellers, and he argues that simply building more dams is not
the answer.

ROSS YOUNG: Dams are becoming an increasingly problematic option for Australia. With the exception
of Perth, almost all of our capital cities rely on dams for their water. Dams only fill when you've
got run-off and run-off is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity as our rainfall patterns
change.

MATT PEACOCK: There's a growing belief among scientists that rainfall across the south of the
continent has moved south, leaving mainland dams dry while more rain falls on the ocean and
Tasmania. And there's been a similar rainfall movement along the eastern seaboard. In the nation's
fastest growing region, from Sydney to south east Queensland, rain is falling on the cities but not
within the dam catchments.

KATE NOBLE, AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION: It's not raining as much over the dams as it did in
the past. Some of the rainfall is falling more over our urban roof catchment. We should be
capturing that water and making good use of it.

MATT PEACOCK: More rain water tanks are the answer, according to the Australian Conservation
Foundation's Kate Noble.

KATE NOBLE: In Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane less than 5 per cent of households have rainwater
tanks at present. In South Australia, the figure is higher than 20 per cent. If just 20 per cent of
households in our major cities collected their rain water from in rain water tanks, we could save
200 gigalitres of water in this country. That's half of all the water in Sydney Harbour.

MATT PEACOCK: Here on the NSW Central Coast, dam capacity is a critical 16 per cent and there's a
level 4 ban on outdoor water use. Yet in the urban coastal belt today, as on other days, it's
raining. And it's small wonder that local rainwater tank supplier Lance Luxford can't keep up with
demand.

LANCE LUXFORD: It makes it very hard at times trying to get the tanks. We're sometimes waiting four
to five weeks for rain water tanks.

MATT PEACOCK: But as in Perth, the Gold Coast and Sydney, here too the local council's pursuing
desalination as an energy-expensive alternative, planning to install 20 portable emergency units
along the beaches

KEN GRANTHAM: Desalination is a last resort, because the councils have pursued all other options.
We are not getting enough water from our streams and rivers.

JOHN ASQUITH, COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENT NETWORK: Desalination units are not the answer for the Central
Coast. The portable units that are planned to be put in here are extremely expensive, they're going
to have a big impact on local communities and on areas such as tourism.

MATT PEACOCK: Nation wide, agriculture is the big water guzzler, accounting for 67 per cent of
consumption with home use in the cities only consuming 10 per cent. And of that, nearly half is
used outdoors before the bathroom, toilet, laundry and kitchen.

KATE NOBLE: Up to 70 per cent of household water use could be saved if we connected a rainwater
tank to the garden, the laundry and the toilet. In Australia, we are literally flushing almost 20
per cent of our drinking water down the toilet.

MATT PEACOCK: Water suppliers agree that tanks are good where the rain still falls but Ross Young
says all options need to be explored.

ROSS YOUNG: Part of the response to the predicament we're in at the moment is to diversify our
water sources away from dams so that we're not totally reliant on runoff and those sources of water
will include groundwater, desalination, recycled water and of course water trading with the
agricultural sectors.

MATT PEACOCK: That means cities buying bush water, a plan Victorian Premier Steve Bracks set in
motion today for the hard pressed Ballarat and Bendigo.

STEVE BRACKS: Where water is available to be sold, then the Central Highlands Water Authority and
other water authorities will be able to buy that and purchase that for use for the population
centres of Ballarat and Bendigo.

ROSS YOUNG: Farmers now have a property right to their water and they are able to trade and those
property rights are worth quite a bit of money. The cities generally have the money to pay, so you
would think there was an ideal opportunity for a win/win.

MATT PEACOCK: Not all farmers agree, but throughout Australia there is a growing consensus: today's
crisis will need an effort from everyone.

ROSS YOUNG: Every component of the economy really needs to look at its water use given the perilous
situation we're looking at at the moment.