Australia is heading towards a water crisis. Its water consumption routinely exceeds its capacity to rely on its freshwater supply thanks to a rapidly growing population, especially in urban areas, its dry climate and its propensity for droughts. With climate change an additional threat and river flows expected to drop by up to 25% within ten years1 the pressure is on the country’s water systems. To ensure its water security, Australia’s population will need to change their water consumption behaviours. We look at the challenges the country faces and the remedies and solutions available.

Water scarcity

Water scarcity is a high challenge in Australia as usage is twice as great as annual rainfall. The vast bulk of its three million square miles is hot and dry. The country’s average annual rainfall is around 470mm a year, well below the global average, and predictions linked to climate change suggest this could halve again in coming decades. What rain that does fall varies greatly from year to year and is concentrated along the north and east coasts: while most of Australia receives as little as 600mm of rain each year, half the country gets less than 300mm1.

The country regularly suffers cycles of drought. At the peak of the decade long Millennium Drought dam levels were as low as 30% in Sydney and Melbourne, and down to 17% in South East Queensland2. At the same time, the country’s population, 80% of which is concentrated in a few coastal cities is predicted to grow by an additional 20 million people in the next 30 years3.

Already one of the world’s thirstiest countries, per capita water consumption averages 100,000 litres per person – that’s 340 litres of water per person per day. Outdoor use is particularly heavy, accounting for nearly half of household consumption through car washing, hosing driveways, and using garden sprinklers at around 1,000 litres per hour.

Driven by the twin challenges of declining water supply and growing demand, Australia has stepped up its efforts to secure its water future. While many Australians are increasingly water aware (Sydney has cut its average daily use by 200 litres per person since 19901), further water savings will be vital to minimize future water stress.

Water measures

To address its water scarcity challenge, Australia has been looking beyond its traditional rain-fed dams and reservoirs, turning to technology instead. All of its mainland states are investing in large desalination plants, each producing up to 674 gigalitres of additional freshwater to cushion city-dwellers against growth and drought. However, desalination is costly and uses so much energy that its water is nicknamed ‘bottled electricity’.

With such a large percentage of domestic water consumption used outdoors, most cities have put restrictions in place on the use of garden hosepipes and irrigation systems through voluntary Water Wise Measures. In Victoria, the city of Melbourne has gone even further, putting permanent rules in place that aim to reduce daily water consumption to a target of 155 litres per person – well below the national average of 340 litres3.

Many products are rated and labelled for water efficiency, with homes increasingly adopting water-saving features from showerheads that regulate flow to dishwashers that use just 12 litres of water a load, a mere 10% of traditional rinsing and washing. More than a quarter of Australian homes collect and store rainwater for domestic use, contributing around 177 billion litres to residential water supplies.

The biggest water-users in the home are washing machines, showers, taps and toilets. By using more water-efficient products Australians could save $2B by 2030, an average saving of $175 per household each year.4

A growing public awareness, together with investment in infrastructure, innovation, and conservation, has seen Australia praised for improving its water security. But what more can be done?

Smart water metering

In Australia, the water reforms that were initiated following the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreement in 1994 introduced universal metering of water in urban areas to, among other things, ensure equity in water usage charges and better demand management.

The more recent introduction of smart water meters, with their ability to collect, analyse and relay water-use data to the water user almost in real-time, deliver even greater potential to encourage significant changes in water-use behaviour patterns. A survey of the water utilities in Australia and New Zealand found that the main benefits of the SWM technology include: water savings, cost savings, increased revenue, customer satisfaction and enhanced community engagement5.

Utilities in Australia, like Yarra Valley, take their digital metering initiatives a step further by leveraging Advizzo’s behavioural and data science solutions, to engage with their residential customers at a deeper level. Our solutions have a track record of encouraging further water consumption reduction, anywhere from 1-8% annually, while increasing customer awareness of their long term water usage.

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