I can vouch for this one, and for the storms that followed on Friday night and Saturday, Warragamba’s catchment missed all the action.
IN the small hours of Thursday morning an intense band of rain cloud scythed its way up the NSW coastline, dumping 107mm of water on Sydney. The Bureau of Meteorology radar screen danced red, yellow and green as the torrent carved a 123-year September record.
Nearby, Sydney’s biggest catchment, which feeds the Warragamba Dam, sat on the storm’s edge like a shy child at a birthday party. It got a bit wet (15mm) but again missed out on most of the fun.
The kids sat mesmerised on Saturday night at the sound and light show nature put on for us as we sat on the cold kitchen floor watching the rain hitting the windows horizontally. The lightning was so close that the house shook several times, putting a look of fear into the eyes of our one and a half year old.
When the peak of the storm had passed we watched the path of the storm on the 128km and 256km radar views from our local airport. While our roof gutters were overflowing and roads were flooding, 100km to the south there was no activity recorded.
Which ever way you look at it, Australia is in a water management crisis. As stated in the article, 75% of the population lives in cities, but accounts for only 8% of all water consumed, however, irrigators account for over 60% of the water usage in Australia, but only pay a few cents per kilolitre, where city dwellers pay around $1.30 per kilolitre. Already faced with water restrictions, many urban areas are looking to link regions with transfer pipelines capable of balancing storage capacity, and even transferring staorage from regional to urban areas if required.
Finally the nation, both farmers and regulators is beginning to understand that water is a commodity that needs to be shared and even traded, that prices are probably set way too low for all users and that technology has a role to play in providing a sustainable water supply for irrigators, industry and urban areas.
Tom Hatton, the director of a CSIRO water program, says initial public resistance is almost inevitable when new technologies are proposed. The challenge for policy-makers is to foster public understanding and confidence in the ideas being proposed.
“Most of our cities have traditionally had one source of water, or maybe two,” Hatton says. “Over the next 10 years people will notice they will start to diversify to three or four.”
It looks like Mr Hatton undersatnds the realities of water supply and is in a good position to lead the change.
“The solutions are going to be different for Perth than they will be in Sydney. Those choices will not be made on perceptions but on analysis and a lot more technical confidence,” Hatton says. “We need to get to the point where those in the market almost have real-time modelling available to them to tell them the state of their water system at any given moment and how vulnerable that is in the near term and medium terms to drought, fire pollution and other environmental threats.”
When Australia’s largest city is running on empty for water, options like desalination and recycled water need to be seriously considered, residents have been put in a position of risk by governments and water authorities who care more about their public image (and getting voted in at the next election), than providing a long term security of supply.