To Tank or not to Tank

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The question is not just “are tankless hot water heaters a good investment?” but “do they help save water?” Yes, they could very well be cost-effective and a mode of conservation both, but the latter takes priority, don’t you think? We want to do our part to save water, but even if it costs more, wouldn’t we still be on board? Dwindling resources are such a vital issue, that they beg for open discussion. It is not a money matter. If it were, we would do the cheapest thing to heat water, disregarding whether or not gallons are wasted daily. We might even eschew the innovative, getting more popular tankless water heater.

I’m assuming you agree about the conservation part. That said, what about those newfangled tankless notions! Did you know that heating water takes up a third of your home’s energy budget? That would prompt anyone to want an energy efficient device that is said to be 22% better than the old tank versions. Not so. They cost so much that it takes years to recoup your expenditure! So that argument should be laid to rest.

Back to the water issue. Will that make us pop open our wallets? The tankless water heater is great in principle. It heats water “on demand” and doesn’t store it, hence the name. Simple. When you want, or I should say need, hot water, cold or tepid water enters the system to be heated by a unit that is switch-activated. It can be either gas or electric depending upon what is already in place as a power source in your home. Every heater, and sizes do vary, has a specific amount of water it will heat, which is measured in flow rate as gallons. The desired temperature can be pre-set and is also a variable. Water heaters are for the entire dwelling or are “point of use”, say for a kitchen or bathroom alone. The latter are smaller and cheaper. It seems less wasteful to do it by space, doesn’t it? Once you assess your utility bills and see your usage, you will know which way is the most economical. But cost aside, if more flow rate comes from a large household system, and the output is too great for the current residents, then logically you could say that precious water is wasted. If you live in a desert area where drought is common, this can really make a difference!

You might think this a small matter household by household, but then you have to add them street by street, city by city, state by state, and so on. Then we are talking real numbers. That’s what counts in the long run. Too many people say that they don’t matter when it comes to water usage. It’s one bath, or one laundry loan, or one lawn sprinkling system. Boy is that putting your head in the sand! Think about this tankless water heater system as just a sample of how one family can make an impact in something that normally gets no notice or concern.

Wash Away the Waste

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We all want to save water: in Australia and around the world. Few places have it in such abundance that it can run from a faucet, hose, or pool outlet indefinitely. Here are droughts even in California, otherwise a lush sunny paradise. In places where there is a shortfall of rain or limited access to dams and rivers, people have to rotate their water usage and be mindful of others’ needs. Big sprawling country club golf courses are sure to be victims as are wasteful industries and recreational facilities.

What to do? There are lots of suggestions about how to cope and here I am offering one itty bitty idea that most people can use: a pressure washer. If you wash your car at home (and it doesn’t have to be weekly), or like to clean the garage door or driveway, then you can avail yourself of a handy, cost-effective unit. While they look like Rube Goldberg contraptions, they are not difficult to maneuver and can take care of most jobs quite well. What’s more, using such a device is faster and saves water in the long run. Remember the days of letting the hose run while you suds the car—not anymore! Remember the days of filling the kiddie pool to the brim—not anymore!

You can plant cacti instead of roses and put in a faux lawn. They don’t look bad at all. You can use energy-efficient washers and dryers for clothes and make sure you fill each load to avoid running several small ones. Showers are better than baths when it comes to waste, and they don’t have to go on for hours. Learn the art of soap and go. In many cases, the pressure washer (cold water to be sure) takes care of outdoor problems in a jiffy.

Make a list of your daily, weekly, and monthly water usage. Look at your bill and compare six months. Are you amazed? We used gallons and gallons, and most for naught. Surely, we can cut a fourth of our usage out, especially when there is a scarcity. Perhaps you can adjust in the winter when the snow and rain fall are adequate to fill the reservoirs.

Pressure washers come in residential and commercial models and employ a type of simple pump system. If you must remove sludge from the chimney or tar from the driveway, this is the only way to go, not to mention all the dirty windows in your home come spring. Muck is caked on by this time and needs some extra elbow grease. Get help. Most pressure washers are gas powered and are easy to take care of. Maintenance should not be a chore, no more than a typical lawnmower (you can clean this off, too). Though pay attention to the water that power washers use. You can find out more here.

Getting ready for a round of cleaning takes a little preparation and research to find the right tools and techniques. With a pressure washer in tow, a dreaded weekend of chores will go fast and your family might even want to get into the act. If you have a boat, so much the better.

Water Conservation is at Hand

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Water conservation and ecological concerns are as important in Australia as anywhere else where drought is a common word and dwindling resources are frequent others. Various areas are effected and it can get pretty serious. Low rainfall is a problem in regions where cattle and sheep ranching are prevalent. Deficiencies can affect herd count and crop production like wheat and cotton among others.

If you care about your homeland or live in my local area, we share a perennial problem that from time to time rears its ugly head and turns into a real crisis. Think about 1994 and 1995 in Queensland for example. The drought was so severe as to become a record occurrence in the annals of Australian climate history. 2006 saw very low rainfall in the southern territory. Water tanks are becoming more prevalent to combat the situation and programs for recycling are in the works. Whatever can be done should be done.

Now most mainland capitals are experiencing a water crisis with figures well below average. It taxes the system and forces restrictions to be implemented. Hot weather always exacerbates the situation. What to do? I have some ideas that each and every one can consider.

You can buy a new water-saving toilet for one thing – a small but important gesture for everyone facing shortages due to droughts and over-consumption. There are plenty of toilet review sites online, like Rate My Toilet, where you can go to find out more about water saving toilets and which models are considered to be the best toilet.  You can fork over a few minor dollars as a symbol of your concern and support. I have read the statistics on water wastage with old models and how much difference it can make on an accumulated basis. The impact will be greatly felt. If you always wanted to do something as a gesture of your patriotism, this is a way for all to participate in solving a recurring and sometimes devastating problem.

Actually, most people need a new toilet anyway. They tend to last a long time beyond expectation, guzzling water over years and decades, crossing centuries, and dwindling precious resources with every flush. While avoiding tub baths (with frequent refills to keep them hot) and opting for short refreshing showers is quite good, this is even better. You use a toilet multiple times per day; and with all the people in your family, you can imagine the litres flowing out to oblivion never to return (unless you recycle, but most do not). So by changing one’s habits and opting for a quick bathroom remodeling on a budget, you can do your part and feel good about it. Kudos to you in advance.

Make a note so you don’t forget or print simply this blog. Talk to your friends and family to get them on board. The impact will multiply indicating how much of a difference you have made. Use Facebook, Twitter, and email. You don’t have to live in Australia by the way. Many countries share the water dilemma just begging for attention. Join the ranks of the conservationists now. I probably won’t stop harping on this, but you have heard me for now.

7 Ways To Conserve Water In the Kitchen

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How much water do you actually use in the kitchen every day? If you’re running with an old faucet, you’re probably using more water than you need to use for your every day chores. If all you’re doing is filling pots with water to boil for food, there’s not much that you can do! If, however, your sink is a multiple-use fixture of the kitchen that sees everything from dirty dishes to dirty laundry that needs to be handwashed, you could probably save at least 20% on the water you use.

It all starts with your ability to upgrade your kitchen faucet. Not only will new faucets help to reduce your water consumption by restricting the amount of water that comes flowing through to you, but you won’t notice a change in the pressure of the water! That means you use less, but get the same experience.

Turn Your Faucet Off

1) How long do you leave your kitchen faucet running? It’s easy to just leave the faucet on when you’ve got work to do. Upgrading to a new faucet that allows you to pause the flow of water will help conserve additional water.

Use Bowls To Scrub

2) Instead of using your sink basin as the bowl to scrub your fruits vegetables, use a large glass bowl that you can place into the sink. Scrub them with a vegetable brush instead of allowing your faucet to be a pressure washer. 

Plan Ahead

3) Don’t use hot water to defrost foods that have come out of the freezer. Not only will this help you conserve water, but you’ll also get better food quality because hot water will start to cook the outside of the food and give you a poor result.

Double Up on Cooking

4) Some foods need water to cook, but some foods can be cooked by steam. If you’re boiling rice, for example, you could use a steaming rack on top of the pot to steam the vegetables you’re preparing with that starch.

Don’t Let Water Go To Waste

5) If you’ve got plants in your home, then they’ll enjoy the leftover water that you’ve got on your stove from the boiling process. If you haven’t put spices or salt into the water, then use the leftover water for your plants instead of your drain.

Replace Your Old Faucet With A Low Flow Model

6) Replacing an old faucet with a new water saving, low flow model can save up to 50%. The latest generation of kitchen faucets include aerators that help reduce water usage by up to half, which can help reduce your usage if you do a lot of rinsing. Taking some time to read kitchen faucet reviews will help you find one that suits your water usage pattern and help you save water.

Upgrade to a Dishwasher

7) Did you know that you could save up to 75% of the water you use for dishes by upgrading to a dishwasher if you don’t have one? If you get an Energy Star rated appliance, you won’t even be using that much power to get it done either.

Put Some Water in the Fridge

8) When you want a cool drink of water on a hot day, try keeping a bottle of water in the fridge for that specific purpose. That way you won’t be tempted to let your kitchen faucet cool off the water for you and let the water run down the drain.

Education to Save Water

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A school water conservation project. Source.

A school water conservation project. Source.

Most of us will agree that water is a precious resource. Water supplies need to be kept sustainable and kept secure. But how did we learn that? Is it common sense? Though common sense is often on the contrary quite uncommon even rare at times. We mean, water is vital for life and for business, but maybe others don’t understand that water can be a limited and scarce resource. It just comes from a tap for most people. Having something ‘on tap’ is to say you have something very easily and abundantly. So children especially really don’t understand some of the challenges and risks that are managed day-to-day and year-to-year with regards to municipal water security.

Education must start in the home. Water costs money, not a lot of money for a liter or two, so hopefully parents are conscious of the water they and their kids use. Though when little Johnny sees Mum and Dad watering the lawn all day whilst they themselves play in the sprinkler you could see why they might ask “why do we need to save water?” More often shouting at the kids to have a shorter shower is to leave some hot water for the rest of the family rather than being based on water conservation. Parents should explain to kids as they fix a leaking tap or as they get their water bill that water is a limited a resource and though we may use it as we need to should not waste it as we pay for it and we need it to last.

Education should also continue in the classroom at school. Organizations such as Save Water at www.savewater.com.au provide teachers and schools with a few resources to help education their students in the importance of saving water. Explaining to the students about the water cycle and water supply is basic science and is a great start. From the basics teachers can start to discuss and debate local water issues, monitor rainfall, test water quality or tour a water supply facility.

Though it can’t all just stop with our kids. We should educate ourselves too. Learn everything you can about how to save water when watering your garden, watering the lawn, filling the pool, how to store water, how to use water tanks and how to find and fix leaks. This way you can pass all this practical knowledge on and will save water for generations. There are many good online resources on how to save water just throw in a search in Google or other search engine.

If we all get smarter we will easily save and conserve our Australian water supplies for generations to come.

Water sustainability & housing development

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An example of a WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme) Sticker.

An example of a WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme) Sticker.

House design and planning is vital when it comes to water efficiency.

The first step is for councils and state governments to effectively and efficiently locate new residential areas for building homes. Residential areas need to be relatively close to existing water infrastructure and water supplies. New pumping capacity is expensive and energy intensive, so new developments a long way from anywhere is very inefficient. New bores tapping underground supplies can add more and more pressure on the water table leading to increased salinity.

Once residential areas are correctly evaluated for water sustainability it’s up to the developers and then the owners. Developers need to be conscious of water usage when planning for parks and other open spaces used to enhance the residential development. Thirsty non-native plants and large water features can be avoided and instead use native flora which generally require less water.

For homeowners and builders, new appliances should be as water efficient as possible. Washing machines, showerheads, dishwashers and toilets should all be very water efficient with modern design and technology. Lawns can be artificial or have underground watering systems; gardens can also be smaller in general.

Building designers and architects should endeavor to incorporate water saving systems such as grey water re-use and rainwater storage into their house designs. Large above ground or below ground tanks can add value to a home without detracting from design or style. It is much more cost effective to incorporate these water saving features into the initial design of a build rather than trying to retrofit them. Online galleries from major builders are a great place to find a range of modern townhouse designs that incorporate the latest water and energy saving features without sacrificing style.

Designers also no longer need to sacrifice comfort or style. Just because a shower head or toilet is water efficient does not mean functionality or style has been sacrificed. New technology is constantly improving form and feature whilst using less and less water. Water features should also be given a pass. Even if it looks absolutely fantastic, if water restrictions come in then it won’t. Clients might also lose face with friends for having a wasteful water feature.

When building new or renovation always keep water in mind with your design.

Water resource planning

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The Murray-Darling River

The Murray-Darling River

Water resource plans are crucial to delivering water security in Australia’s fragile Murray-Darling basin. The Murray-Darling basin is now somewhat influenced by the federal government via the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. This makes sense to us as the basin covers so many different Australian states all with competing interests and agendas.

From 1914, the Murray-Darling has been subject to agreements setting out the states share of water and infrastructure funding. The agreements form the basis of water resource planning and apply to surface and groundwater. The idea of water resource is to allocate what is a sustainable level of water that can be taken from the Murray-Darling.

Water resource planning tries to take into account the potential for environmental risks to water supplies and resources. Quality, water trading, accounting, auditing, Aboriginal native title rights among other things are considered and addressed in a complete water resource plan.

A water resource plan can also dictate how water is captured and taken from the water system i.e. farm irrigation dams, however they do not regulate how water is used once taken or land usage.

Water allocations can make or break the livelihoods of people operating commercial ventures. Thus water resource planning is a very sensitive and passionate topic to debate and discuss. The history of Australia’s allocation amounts has been too excessive. In high stress droughts the Murray-Darling basin has suffered immensely. In reducing water allocation amounts everything must be considered and balanced. A balance between, human, commercial and environmental needs must be achieved albeit a very complicated balance to achieve. All stakeholders and future stakeholders should be considered and the current stakeholders consulted.

Water resource planning can simply be called the process of developing a water allocation plan. The development of a plan must be structured and methodical to get a good result. Initially the proposed content of the plan should be outlined. Next the community and all stakeholders should be give opportunity to add their ideas, concerns and input to the plan. A draft should then be prepared. Again the community and stakeholders should be consulted on the draft plan. The plan should then be finalized, implemented and reviewed often.

Water resource planning is best in the hand of government planning bodies that have the scientific expertise to get the best result for water security and sustainability. Though stakeholders cannot sit on their hands whenever their own water supply is being planned. Participate always in the consultation and actively look for ways to be involved.

Water resource planning can also be used on an individual allocation level. Whilst the government will allocate water to an individual or corporation, for there they may plan further. Resource planning occurs in any business, usually with money, but now also with water. For example on a farm, different crops required varying quantities of water to mature. Depending upon market prices for matured produce and the water required to grow and farm said produce, farmers can allocate their water accordingly.

Using every drop wisely and sustainably is what water resource planning is all about.

Water saving in the home

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An example of a water saving showerhead.

An example of a water saving showerhead.

Urban water efficiency is as important as ever. With more severe weather events such as droughts occurring more regularly there is less and less water supply security. Plus with cities growing at a rapid pace there are more and more people demanding water and relying upon the municipal water supply. So if there are more people and less secure water supplies what can we do?

We can try reducing the average water usage per person, that’s what. If every household pitches in to reduce their water use in the kitchen, bathroom and garden we’ll save a lot of water and improve our water security.

The house in general

Let’s start with the house in general. Plumbing leaks can account for a lot of water use. If you have old plumbing, notice increased water use without obvious reason or notice water use whilst away on holiday you might have a plumbing leak. If you suspect you have a water leak you should get a plumber in to check your pipes. Fixing a leak saves valuable water and stops your paying for water you don’t use. Stopping your money going down the drain (sorry about the pun).

Kitchen

Moving on to the kitchen but sticking with leaks, make sure you fix leaking washers. A dripping tap can waste a lot of water unnecessarily, again you money just going down the drain.

If you use a dishwasher try ensure the machine is as water efficient as possible. Consider replacing old model dishwashers with newer more efficient models. When purchasing a new machine ensure you purchase with water efficiency in mind and pay attention to the water efficiency rating stickers on the machine front.

Bathroom

Taking baths is less water efficient than taking showers unless you are having a really long shower. You can try sharing bath water with other members of your family but generally showering is better for hygiene and water efficiency. Fitting a water saving shower head to your shower will also help your water efficiency and allow you to have a great shower while using less water.

Toilets should be dual flush and low flow. Though some models in some houses do not put enough water down to clear plumbing. If plumbing problems occur simply always use the higher flush level. You’ll still be saving water compared to older models.

Laundry

Washing machines should be purchased with water efficiency in mind. Again pay attention to the water-rating sticker on the front of a new purchase. Try to use any water saving functions as often as possible.

Garden

Underground irrigation is a great way to save water and get the most from your water. Underground irrigation gets water straight to the source, the roots of your plants and lawn. Timers can also be fitted to ensure watering isn’t run for too long. Also timers ensure watering occurs at the best time, early morning and early evening, so water isn’t lost to too much evaporation from the heat of the sun.

If you can’t install irrigation systems in your garden consider using a watering can or low flow hose fitting to water plants and the lawn.

If we all pitch in together we can reduce the pressure on our limited water resources, increase our water security and have cool fresh water for generations to come.

Urban water sustainability in Australia

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Water sensitive urban design from UniSA's Mawson Lakes Campus in South Australia. Source.

Water sensitive urban design from UniSA’s Mawson Lakes Campus in South Australia. Source.

Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney all feature prominently in the lists of the world’s most livable cities. Excellent infrastructure is a large part of why Australian cities are ranked so highly for their standard of living. But there is a threat emerging. With more people comes more demand for water and water sustainability is fast becoming an issue at current growth rates.

However the outlook is not bleak, be alert but not alarmed we suppose. Key institutions like the CSIRO are currently working to maintain urban water security in Australia. Research into urban water technologies, sustainable water systems and urban water futures are all a part of the CSIRO’s urban water theme. The research aims to secure water services to increase sustainability of Australian city water supplies and thus provide significant economic and living standard benefits.

It is crucial that Australian cities innovate and continue to improve their water technology and infrastructure. Urban water technology and infrastructure needs to focus on reducing the amount of energy (power & electricity) that is used to treat water and how to source water as close to the end users as possible (this reduces energy used in pumping stations).

Development of sustainable water systems often suffers from cyclical setbacks in Australia due to climate and weather. Often Australia is affected by a long drought. With a lack of consistent rainfall Australian’s start to panic about water security and huge political and commercial will is generated to further the cause of water sustainability. This will power is lost however when the drought breaks. Very heavy rainfall and immense floods often follow the break in the drought. Very heavy rainfall combined with dry soils causes severe inundation in many Australian towns and cities. It is hard to talk about conserving water when your very own house is 1m deep in river water. This cycle of drought and flood creates a stop start kind of mentality to water security research and development. This stop start mentality reduces technological progress and funding dries up (pardon the pun) and households no longer feel the need to be water security conscious so widespread adoption of new technology is stymied. Long-term government and commercial thinking and partnership are required to make meaningful and significant gains in Australian urban water systems.

Another hurdle that must be leaped to maintain Australian city water security is the differences between each city. The major capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Hobart and Canberra all have unique geographical and climatic challenges. The demographics of populations within each city are also varied and unique. Water systems suitable for Darwin will not likely be suitable (either in efficacy, efficiency or cost) for a city such as Melbourne. Scale and density is also variable with more inner city Melbourne compared to western Sydney urban sprawl.  This likely means research and development successes and breakthroughs is limited in their application and reach. R&D must then be targeted and consider the specifics of geography, climate and population to be efficient and effective.

With a bit of grit, determination and luck Australia will continue to be the lucky country when it comes to water and the standard of living.

The deal with desal – damn the costs!

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Desalination plant at Port Stanvac which services Adelaide

Desalination plant at Port Stanvac which services Adelaide

So what’s the deal with desal? Desal is the Australian shortened slang for desalination. A desal plant is a desalination plant, though sometimes Aussies will refer to it as the desal.

Australia has a very unsecure water supply. With little rainfall compared to other nations the rainfall can also be very inconsistent with long periods of drought not uncommon to the country. What Australia does have a lot of is saltwater. The major Australian cities are all on the coast and the entire country is an Island, the biggest Island in the world and the world’s only continent island. So not enough drinking water? But lots of saltwater? Desalination looks like a dream and Australian’s and Australian politicians can’t seem to get enough.

Every Australian state has at least one desalination plant on the back of promises to secure Australia’s drinking water in the face of droughts and the decline of the Murray Darling basin (the biggest river system in Australia). The desalination plants have spawned massive infrastructure projects and changes in Australian water supplies. Often cities are not connected completely to one water supply. Often they are fed by multiple supplies and never one supply for the whole city. Though it is politically poisonous to have only part of the city connected to the water desalination plant. This sparks new pipe work to connect water supplies north to south and east to west. The pipework in itself is a large undertaking with road being dug up and new pipe laid under a new road. Though this new pipework and longer distances requires more pumping capacity. So upgrades and modifications are made to pumping stations throughout the network. This all adds to the impressive cost of the desalination plant itself.

Detractors of desalination don’t just quibble over the initial capital cost of the plant, pipes and pumping infrastructure required. The cost to run the plant and turn salt water into potable drinking water is very high too. Desalination works by either heating the water to steam or pumping water through membranes applying reverse osmosis, either method is immensely energy intensive. This energy costs money.

Desalination has also raised many environmental concerns. The intake of a desalination plant can dispute the local marine environment causing problems throughout the food chain from plankton to fish. Australian desalination plants in Sydney and on the Gold Coast have specially been designed to intake water at a slow enough rate for fish to escape being sucked in.

The outflow of a desalination plant also causes environmental issues. The outflow of the plant is incredibly salty, a brine. This brine increases the salinity of the local ocean, which again disrupts the ecosystem and food chain. As brine sinks in normal sea water it can accumulate and cause havoc on the sea bed. Careful monitoring and gentle release is required along with excellent planning for the location of outlet vents to use ocean topography to effectively disperse brine.

Despite the rising cost of their water bills, infrastructure disruption to roads and environmental concerns Australians are still in love with desal.

Water Security & Australia

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Water is a vital resource for any person, city and indeed the entire world. Our lives, well being and economic prosperity depend upon our water supplies and managing them effectively and wisely.

Wars have been fought and not fought for the sake of water. Water security was one of the factors leading to the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and several Arab States. It is also rumored that alongside its decentralized civilian defense systems, threats by the Swiss to disrupt (poison) water supplies to Germany helped to keep Switzerland out of WWII.

Though water security is not just about international war and conflict. More often the biggest dangers to water security are environmental and usage factors such as drought and overuse. Water security and management is much more broad.

Water security relates to water supplies for human consumption and use that has;

  • Reliably available

  • Quantity that is acceptable

  • Quality that is acceptable

  • Acceptable level of risk as to reliability, quantity and quality

Australia is one of the driest countries on earth, combined with significant population growth and increasing periods of drought water security is top of the agenda.

In Australia water security is a core responsibility of the state and federal governments.  Providing healthy drinking water is a very important responsibility of the state health minister and the political fall out of unsafe water is immense. Also having to impose water restrictions is very unpopular with people and will lose votes.

As such there is a lot of competition between states and between different users for water. Australia’s primary water resource, the Murray Darling basin, runs through multiple Australian states and territories. This has caused significant debate and arguments especially in times of drought. The Council of Australian Governments or COAG is responsible for negotiating and resolving such water management issues.

Water conservation is a high priority in Australia with farms and other heavy users now investing in modern technologies in attempts to use less water. More efficient irrigation and less ‘thirsty’ crop types are among the new developments. To use water on a large commercial scale water licenses are required, which are heavily regulated by the State governments.

Municipal water supply and water treatment has mostly been privatized throughout Australia, though government oversight and management remains a heavy presence.

“You can turn anything wet into drinking water – provided you filter it through enough money” – Unknown

Government and private bodies are investing heavily into Australia’s water security through major infrastructure projects. Most states in Australia have one or more desalination plants. Desalination has been a politically popular choice to create an additional source of drinking water, though the cost and electricity consumption that accompanies desalination has been argued to be too excessive. Often new pipework supply lines have to be constructed to connect the entire capital city (or the entire state) to the desalination plant, which is another added expense.

As water supplies become more sensitive to climate factors and as demand for water increases, water security in Australia will become an ever-increasing issue. Major projects and technological advances combined with political will and cooperation will be required to ensure Australia’s limited water resources will continue to be secure.