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Goulburn's water problems frustrate residents -

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Goulburn's water problems frustrate residents

Reporter: Jo McKenna

KERRY O'BRIEN: The city of Goulburn, just north of the national capital, has played a rich part in
one of Australia's great success stories for well over a century. If Australia was built on the
sheep's back, Goulburn produced millions of those fabled merino fleeces. But the story of Goulburn
today is one of a community facing such hard times that, in mere months, it could become the
nation's first city to run out of drinking water. Not only is the region in its fifth straight year
of drought, but to add insult to injury, Goulburn is perched on the edge of Sydney's catchment
area, and residents there are frustrated to say the least that their precious water has been
flowing north, to some degree, to Australia's biggest city. Jo McKenna reports.

JO McKENNA: Storm clouds loomed above the city of Goulburn today, but delivered nothing more than a
light shower and false hope to a town desperate for water.

FIONA HUMPHRIES, GOULBURN RESIDENT: It's got down to basics now of - we have to have water to

PAUL STEPHENSON, MAYOR, GOULBURN MULWAREE COUNCIL: We're down to about 10 per cent of useable water
from where we were, so that's the desperation point.

JO McKENNA: Now in their fifth consecutive year of drought, Goulburn's 23,000 residents have been
living on high level water restrictions for the past 18 months. Each resident is asked to use no
more than 150 litres of water a day. That's less than it takes to fill the average bathtub. And so
families like the Humphries have had to come up with new ways to conserve water.

FIONA HUMPHRIES: With a large family, it makes it really difficult at bath and shower time. It
sounds horrible but they do all use the same bathwater, because it's there's only so much you can

JO McKENNA: Once bath time is over, the waste water is collected in a bucket to save what's left of
the garden.

FIONA HUMPHRIES: It's become in Goulburn a part of life. That's the way it has to be. You just
reminisce over having a green lawn or something that looks admissible as a garden because it's all
just dirt.

JO McKENNA: Goulburn's extreme measures have cut domestic consumption in half, but it's not enough.
The city has only 10 per cent of useable water left. One of the city's main water sources, Pejar
Dam, normally holds 9,000 megalitres, but now has less than 1,000 left. Even if the drought breaks
before the end of the year, current water levels are so low, town planners estimate it will take
more than four years for local dams to be refilled. In a desperate bid to supplement the town's
dwindling supplies, four emergency bores are being sunk outside the city. While these bores are
expected to satisfy Goulburn's daily needs in the short term, even they will run dry within 12
months. Is it too little, too late?

MATTHEW O'ROURKE, GOULBURN MULWAREE WATER SERVICES: Um... it's certainly late. However, anything
that we can do now, it's gotta help the situation.

JO McKENNA: It's not just the residents who are being asked to cut back. In an effort to make even
more water savings, the local council is holding emergency meetings with industrial and commercial

PAUL STEPHENSON: We're asking people to use less, we're asking the heavy users or the industrial
and commercial people to cut their use by 30 per cent.

JO McKENNA: The Goulburn Wool Scour Company or GWS was one of the first companies to reduce its
water consumption. One of the largest wool-cleaning operations in the country, GWS has spent $3.5
million on water-saving technology over the past five years.

HOWARD KNEEBONE, GOULBURN WOOL SCOUR: If we run out of water, we stop. It's not a matter of just
slowing down. It's an aqueous process. Totally dependent on water. If we don't have water we don't
wash wool.

JO McKENNA: The company's general manager, Howard Kneebone, says the Goulburn community is doing
all it can to conserve water and blames the New South Wales Government for not taking action
earlier to avert the crisis.

HOWARD KNEEBONE: They're not responsible for the drought, obviously, but Goulburn City has been
screaming out for help for quite a long time, and it's had to reach crisis point before they've
done anything.

FRANK SARTOR, NSW MINISTER FOR ENERGY & UTILITIES: Let's be clear, it's unsatisfactory and we're
working hard to overcome that. I don't believe it's catastrophic, in fact I believe it has been
worse in a number of other towns.

JO McKENNA: Goulburn residents are angry that they're making a bigger sacrifice than their city
cousins in Sydney, who consume more than double the amount of water per head every day. While
Goulburn is on the highest level 5 water restrictions, Sydney is still only on level 2.

FIONA HUMPHRIES: Then you look down at Sydney, and they were still, you know, a couple of years ago
watering their concrete just to keep it clean and just the wastage, it needs to be a complete plan,
because if we're on water restrictions they should be on the same ones.

HOWARD KNEEBONE: If the city runs out of water, there will be 23,000 people going to Sydney and
stoning Bob Carr.

JO McKENNA: Despite the criticism, New South Wales Energy and Utilities Minister Frank Sartor says
the Government has spent $15 million supporting water conservation schemes in Goulburn. And also
contributed to the bore project.

FRANK SARTOR: I've been on this case for the last two years. I have tightened up all round the
state. Everyone has to take more responsibility for water consumption. This is a national issue. In
fact, a global issue, not just a Sydney issue.

JO McKENNA: Leigh Martin from the Total Environment Centre agrees Goulburn is not an isolated case,
and says recycling is the only solution for drought-stricken communities.

LEIGH MARTIN, TOTAL ENVIRONMENT CENTRE: What we need is a major shift towards reuse of treated
effluent, to substitute some of the purposes for which we're using drinking-quality water now,
where we could substitute effluent. It's extraordinary that in a country as dry as ours, we use
water only ones before disposing of it.

JO McKENNA: Goulburn families like the Humphries may be role models for the rest of the country but
in the end no no matter how much water they save, nature is still their most important ally.

FIONA HUMPHRIES: Reality is starting to hit, and they're thinking it's going to rain and it will be
fine, but it's not raining and it's not fine.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Once again, the pictures tell the story. Jo McKenna with that report.