Findings from the University of Melbourne, Federation University Australia and UC Irvine in California suggest that the best way to deal with problems brought on by drought is not building infrastructure or raising prices, but shifting thinking.
The research shows that when agencies and utilities providers work together in co-ordinated outreach programs to create a cultural shift around water usage, real water savings occur.
Australia’s worst ever drought, known at the Millenium Drought, which ended in 2010, prompted the people of Melbourne to invest in measures such as rainwater tanks to save on water bills. Farm fields were also irrigated with highly treated sewage water. These and other measures led to public and commercial reduction in water usage by 155 litres per person per day by the last year of the drought.
Given that four years into the drought, California’s residential water usage is twice as high as Melbourne’s, with some areas, such as Palm Springs, more than eight times Melbourne’s average usage, it’s clear that California has some lessons to learn if it hopes to replicate Melbourne’s success.
One major hurdle is California’s highly decentralised water management system, in stark contrast to Melbourne’s highly centralised one, which the research suggests is one of the biggest reasons for the success of Melbourne’s drought measures. Collaboration and education are key if California is to follow Australia’s example.