Instead of writing a researched article which looked at the current impact that the lack of recent rainfall has had on the city of Melbourne and how that lack of rainfall has contributed to Melbourne’s current water usage, Jason Dowling at The Age decided to write instead, “Is the wally back? Melbourne water use surges“, based on the “Don’t be a Wally with water” campaign to reduce water usage during drought in Melbourne. From Dowling’s article:
HAS Melbourne turned back into a city of water wallies?
After years of conserving water, the city’s usage has surged this year.
A hot summer and easing water restrictions have coincided with a big jump in water use. In the week to January 10, Melburnians used an average of 238 litres per person – 50 per cent more than the former daily usage target of 155 litres a day.
It was the highest weekly per capita water use since the week ending February 15, 2009, when 241 litres a day were used.
In the week ending Thursday, average daily water use per person was 225 litres, 45 per cent above the former 155 target.
It’s not just a hot summer that has led to a big increase in water usage and it’s not just the easing of water restrictions that has led to a big increase in water usage – it’s the complete lack of rain. As of writing this post, Melbourne has received a whole 0.6mm of rain* in January 2013. The monthly average for January** is 47.6mm – I don’t see Melbourne even approaching that much rain in the remaining days of January. In December, Melbourne received 30mm of rain *** with the average rainfall for that month being 59.3mm – only slightly over half the monthly rainfall. Again in November, Melbourne received 37.2mm of rain ****, the monthly average being 60.3mm, and so on and so on – all these things that Dowling could have actually researched.
As there aren’t harsh water restrictions in place, because in 2011 and early 2012 many parts of Victoria flooded, which was great for water catchments, people are keeping their gardens alive while waiting for it to rain again. And waiting they are, because the Bureau of Meteorology are already suggesting that parts of eastern Australia are going into drought.
When Dowling approached the Water Minister in relation to the recent increase of water usage, they replied:
Water Minister Peter Walsh denied there had been a cultural shift in Melbourne back to heavy water use. ”Melbourne has had some very hot days recently, we haven’t had a lot of rain, and it’s summer. It is not uncommon for water use to peak during such hot and dry conditions,” he said.
”After restrictions eased to permanent water saving rules last November, water use generally has continued to trend at similar levels, which indicates that the lessons Melbourne customers learnt during the drought about using water wisely have stayed with them.”
It’s also school holidays and we’re fortunate enough to have a heat dome over much of inland Australia. When this heat dome wanders to the outer edges of our island nation people are going to do what they can to keep themselves and their children cool. Water is an excellent method of cooling down. People are also going to be drinking more, using evaporative air conditioners more, showering more frequently and using more water to stay comfortable and alive.
This article by Dowling should have focused on the whys of Melbourne’s increased water usage and asked why it isn’t raining (climate change), and how the heat dome has formed (failed monsoon – climate change), and perhaps even asked a meteorologist to explain how failed monsoons impact on rainfall in the rest of Australia. This article could have been a very useful vehicle for educating people about how and why rain falls across Australia, and perhaps asked more about whether our water usage is sustainable if the continent is going to continue to dry out.
Perhaps instead of Dowling blaming people for watering their gardens with drinking water, using drinking water to cool themselves and their children down (if any), and using more water around the house, Dowling should look at the broader and more interesting story. That’s journalism, this article falls far short.
* January rainfall figures taken from Bureau of Meteorology
** Mean rainfall figures taken from the Bureau of Meteorology
*** December rainfall figures taken from the Bureau of Meteorology
**** November rainfall figures taken from the Bureau of Meteorology