by Michael Wandmaker, Managing Director, Melbourne Water
We know that water is essential to life. World Water Day is a chance to reflect on this.
This year, World Water Day is focused on water and climate change – and how the two are inextricably linked. How we adapt to climate change plays a significant role in our water security.
The Millennium drought between 1997 and 2009 fundamentally changed expectations of water availability and how we manage our water supplies. Melbourne dealt with severe restrictions and low water storages.
This drought affected most of the major capital cities on the east coast of Australia and brought the impacts of severe drought and changing climate to homes across Australia.
Across Melbourne, long showers, children running through sprinklers, green footy fields and hosing down the concrete were no more.
Our climate is changing. Average streamflow – the rain runoff that is crucial to filling the reservoirs that supply water to Melbourne – is now around 30 per cent lower than before the Millennium drought.
Since then, Melbourne’s population has swelled by more than 1.6 million people.
Since being turned on in 2016-17, the Victorian Desalination Plant has delivered more than 190 billion litres into the Melbourne supply system – almost the equivalent capacity of Upper Yarra Reservoir, one of Melbourne’s largest dams.
Storage levels would be ten percentage points lower today without the ongoing contribution of this climate independent water source.
The desal plant is vital in meeting the challenges of climate change and population growth. It takes the pressure off our dams during droughts, helps us avoid severe water restrictions and supports surrounding regions, and cities and towns – including South Gippsland and Geelong.
Building a buffer for future droughts provides protection against events such as the Millennium drought where storages fell by 20 per cent in one year alone.
We have learnt much as a community since the Millennium drought – when Melbourne’s storages fell to less than 30 per cent – and have benefited from the foresight of many to establish water supply systems capable of providing reliable high-quality water supplies.
However, securing and managing our water supply is not just about keeping our reservoir storage levels healthy.
At Melbourne Water – we are continually working on managing and diversifying our water sources to secure our water future. To that end, we are focusing on using more stormwater and recycled water for non-drinking purposes, like irrigation, to take the pressure off the catchments.
Melbourne Water currently supplies recycled water from our Eastern Treatment Plant and Western Treatment Plant for use in gardens, industrial processes, agriculture and generally improving the environment.
World Water Day presents an opportunity to reflect and act on the role each of us can play to help secure our water supply and care for the environment.
Last financial year, Melburnians averaged 161L of water use per person per day – a significant 35 per cent drop on pre-Millennium drought days.
However, we are still short of our target of 155L per person per day. Should we reach this target, across Melbourne we would save 11 billion litres over a year compared to using 161L per person per day.
Our city’s success in maintaining low water use rates is recognised globally – but we can all continue to do our bit.
You would be amazed how easy it is for you to participate and feel good about your contribution. Having a shorter shower, choosing water efficient toilets and washing machines, and using full loads, or not letting taps run – all result in significant water savings.
These actions also have a flow on effect in reducing our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
This World Water Day we are encouraging you to be connected to your water and make every drop count.