Australia is experiencing one of its hottest and driest springs on record. Last Thursday was the warmest day on record with temperatures climbing to a balmy 34 degrees. They are in the first throws of spring yet there is already a well-established drought. Rivers are dry, fields are barren and farmers are already struggling to keep their heads above water (if you will excuse the pun). The weathermen are predicting a long and punishing summer.
There is a total fire ban in most states and while this is not unusual, it is normally not implemented until the height of summer. Back burning, the practice of deliberately burning off strategic areas to avoid fires at a later date can be seen everywhere outside of the city.
Not surprisingly, water conservation is high on the political agenda. Both the government, and the opposition, claim to have the answers to Australia’s’ chronic water shortage. In Victoria the debate appears to be polarised around dam building. The opposition believe building a $80 million dam would ease Melbourne’s water crisis, whereas the government has, quite rightly, pointed out that the river in question is already over utilised and there is little point in damming a dry river. Their answer is to reconnect an existing reservoir with the river. Why the river was disconnected in the first place isn’t clear. Nobody appears to have any answers apart from more dams and reservoirs.
One shocking fact to emerge from this debate is that Victoria does not recycle any of its water! Coming from London, where our drinking water has been through seventeen people (and a water treatment plant) before it gets to us, I was perplexed. How could a country like Britain, with so much water need to recycle, whereas a country as dry as Australia feels no need to recycle at all? Was the water treatment plant a purely British preserve?
The Victorian Government does encourage individuals to recycle, giving financial incentives for water filtration systems that connect to toilets and stand pipes. Building companies are connecting to water treatment plants to achieve the same effect, again connecting the treated water only to toilets and stand pipes. This was on the news recently. The reporter talked as if he was reporting on a cure for cancer and watched the water spurting from the standpipe like an excited child. They do not recommend drinking the water however. The Melbourne water website says: ‘class A recycled water (the best you can get) is safe for use on irrigation and for food crops including those eaten raw’, but not for drinking.
Is there something Thames Water isn’t telling us, or are Australians just more particular about their water?