Australia: Water to get more scarce, more expensive

In Australasia, News Headlines, Scientific Reports

A new study says Australia’s water supply problems are only going to get worse as the population soars towards 45 million by mid-century.

The report by Australia’s major water utilities estimates demand for water will increase by almost 1 trillion litres by 2056 based on a population of 31 million people.

The worst-case scenario indicates more than 1.5 trillion litres may be needed if Australia reaches 45 million.

The study says cities will have to get new plumbing and residents will need to get by with less and costlier water.

Ross Young, from the Water Services Association, says climate change is the unpredictable ingredient and cities will have to rely on manufactured supplies to cope.

“That will include the dams that exist, it will include desalination, recycled water, ground water, water trading with the rural sector, storm water, rainwater tanks,” he said.

“Looking at 2056, which is a long way out, it’s hard to predict just what new technology will deliver.”

But Mr Young says Australia can cope.

“We have the technology and the resources to make sure that water won’t be a limiting factor for population growth in urban Australia,” he said.

Waterless washing machines are one suggestion, new plumbing to capture stormwater run-off is the reality, and learning to do more with less is the key.

But the picture of a future drinking desalinated water has environmental groups concerned.

Charles Berger, from the Conservation Foundation, says that will only increase energy use.

He says harvesting rainwater and run-off must be the basis for a solution.

“Desalination is very energy intensive so we’re looking at the possibility for increased greenhouse pollution if we invest in desalination,” he said.

“It also has a big impact on the marine environment in terms of the supply of saltwater and then what happens at the end of the process as well.

Dr Bob Birrell, from Monash University, says one thing is certain: the cost of water can only go up.

“[Treated water] will be far more expensive per unit of water than is the case for gravity-fed water from dams,” he said.

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