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The Forum > General Discussion > The Water Scarcity Myth

The Water Scarcity Myth

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An article in today's Daily Telegraph http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20459706-5001021,00.html
describes how some councils have had to close their sports ovals for the summer, and others are restricting the activities that can take place on them. The reason for this is that Sydney's level 3 water restrictions mean that councils cannot use the water they need to maintain the ovals in a condition suitable for use.

The cause of this is not the current drought conditions, though obviously they are a contributing factor. No, the cause is the state Government. The Government's own cost estimates for a wind-farm powered desalinator show that water from a desalinator costs about 50 cents per kilolitre more than water from the catchment areas. At the moment it looks like we'd only need to produce 1/3 of our water that way, so the net impact would be 16 cents per kilolitre. With per-capita usage running at less than 300 litres per day, this would mean an increase of about 5 cents per person per day.

The government's current approach to handling the water shortage is to do as little as possible to avoid Sydney actually running out of water. As a result we can expect to stay on level 3 restrictions indefinitely. Yet I do not believe society is unwilling to pay 5 cents per person per day in order to get rid of water restrictions. If the government weren't totally spineless, they'd have started building the desalinator already, rather than pussy-footing around with half-measures like deep water access to the dams.

Sylvia.
Posted by Sylvia Else, Saturday, 23 September 2006 6:16:12 PM
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I'm no scientist, but yesterday I heard a scientist saying that the water restricitions placed on the population have no validity in science.

Governments have sat on their hands for years, preferring to 'punish' the rest of us with restrictions and threats of high cost water to get us to use less. At the same time, they are bringing more and more people into the country.

A couple of years ago, after questioning the SA government on the sense of trying to increase the population when we supposedly did not have enough water for the current population (SA has had permanent restrictions for some years) I received a glossy brochure to do with 'waterproofing' SA. The idea was that we could increase population and still have enough water through government initiatives.

What has the government done since then? Sweet nothing! And next month we will have further restrictions imposed on us.

We are still being told, though, that SA needs a further half million people to feed voracious industry.
Posted by Leigh, Sunday, 24 September 2006 9:31:54 AM
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Agreed Leigh

Currently, with the continuous growth paradigm still firmly entrenched, any increase in water restrictions or any increase in water-provision will directly facilitate more and more people moving into water-stressed areas.

This will serve to dilute if not completely cancel out these measures.

Population stabilisation is thus one of the vital prerequisites to developing secure water supplies.

Continuing to increase populations in water-stressed areas is just madness.

Currently, it is not a case of us all having to do with less for the good of our city, region or country, it is a case of us all having to do with progressively less so that more and more people can be squeezed in.

When is this insanity going to change?
.

Sylvia, I donít have too much of a problem with the promotion of desalination plants, for as long as population stabilisation is part of the overall strategy.
Posted by Ludwig, Sunday, 24 September 2006 9:48:25 AM
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Leigh, it is certainly true that the restrictions have no scientific validity.

In the past the only practical way people had to obtain fresh water was to take it from rivers, capture runoff in dams, or take it out of the ground (springs, wells and bore holes). This seems to have become embedded in the mindset of politicians as if it was a universal principle.

In more recent times technology has provided other solutions, but governments still seem stuck in the past.

The result is that the NSW state government's approach for Sydney is to take yet more water from the Shoalhaven river, and if that's not enough, drill bore holes. In both cases, we're sucking the lifeblood from the evironment. It seems that only when we've bled the environment dry will the desalination solution be adopted.

Ludvig, I think it would be difficult to stabilise the population at this point without significant adverse economic consequences. The problem is our aging population.

It's true that an increased population will necessitate increased desalination, which in turn will push up the net cost of water, because a greater proportion will come from desalination. However, the effect will be gradual, and really isn't that large anyway. I think the ecomonic cost of not having the population increase would outweigh the higher costs of water with the extra people.

Sylvia.
Posted by Sylvia Else, Sunday, 24 September 2006 9:59:12 AM
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Sylvia

I would say that the problem is our overall population size in relation to our resource base and our way of life.

I donít think the aging of the population is a particularly significant problem at all.

Stabilising population is something that we must work towards. It would indeed create problems if we just did it overnight, ie, stopped immigration, and transmigration into growth-stressed areas. A gentle approach to limits for the country, states, regions and cities is in order. These can then be open to regular review. The important thing is that we get it through our thick heads that we canít just keep growing indefinitely, and that maintaining the same rapid growth rates in times of resource stress simply defies logic.

It seems to me Sylvia that you are putting the economy ahead of quality of life. Fast growth rates lead to a dynamic economy and a progressivley bigger economic turnover. But if this is based on population growth, which it very largely is, then whatís the point? We must think of economic turnover in terms of the quality of life that it provides. So we must think of it in average per-capita terms, not in gross product terms.

So yes, a slowing of population growth will inevitably lead to a slowing of economic growth. But it shouldnít lead to a reduction in per-capita economic growth. So therefore it shouldn't matter.

Building more desalination plants will probably provide adequate water for a much larger population at a tolerably more expensive rate. But the continuous population growth facilitated by a program of simply building more and more plants would apply pressure to various other resources and add to all sorts of environmental problems.

Surely it is a much better plan to limit the demand for water, ie size of the population, rather than ever-increasing the supply rate, or increasing supply until the population size comes up against some other limiting factor.
Posted by Ludwig, Sunday, 24 September 2006 9:12:01 PM
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Great topic Sylvia.

My 2c - it would be impossible to run out of water if price was determined by market forces.

Price above minimum daily household requirements should be sold to the highest bidder/s. Yes, we'd pay more if we were wasteful, but once the current atificial price ceilings were lifted this would lead to reduced demand through innovation and conservation (cost-avoidance) on the one side, and increased supply on the other side as infrastructure / technology / production costs would be better met by higher profits.
Posted by foundation, Monday, 25 September 2006 3:14:46 PM
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