Melbourne water usage

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Thomson dam low water level in October 2008
Thomson dam low water level in October 2008

The city of Melbourne, Australia, has extensive forested water catchments. Over the period 1995 to 2006, Melbourne's rainfall, and that in the catchments, has fallen by 75%, most probably as an effect of climate change.

The Government still allows logging in some of Melbourne's water catchments, despite scientific evidence that this reduces both the quality and quantity of water obtained from these catchments. In May 2002, the Victorian Government report titled 21st Century Melbourne: a WaterSmart City. Strategy Directions Report identified that ending logging in the catchment would provide an estimated additional average annual 20 gigalitres (20,000 ML) per year.

For the week ending Friday May 2, 2008, the average daily water usage in Melbourne was 988 million litres.


Melbourne's water usage

The trends in Melbourne's water usage (daily litres per person) is:

  • 2007: 277 litres[1]
  • 2006/07: 303 litres[2]
  • 2005/06: 330 litres
  • 1990s: 422 litres
  • 1945/46: 300 litres

Water usage in other parts of Australia

Residents of Brisbane and south-east Queensland have been limited to 140 litres per person a day since May 2007.

Comparison of water usage between Melbourne and Sydney

Image:Sydney and Melbourne water graph.jpg

Sourced from: The Reuse Potential of Urban Stormwater and Wastewater Industry Report (PDF), Report 99/14, Grace Mitchell, Russell Mein, Tom McMahon

Controversy over water tanks

Surrey Hills house main water tank (13,500 litres)
Surrey Hills house main water tank (13,500 litres)

Many residents in Melbourne have fitted or intend to fit domestic water tanks, for which there is a small government subsidy.

However, State Water Minister Tim Holding has stated he does not believe that domestic water tanks are an efficient solution for addressing Melbourne's ongoing water shortage. This claim has been questioned by The University of Melbourne systems scientist and microbiologist Peter Coombes, who has challenged the Government's big-project direction, and stated that water tanks can provide significant quanties of water.

Professor Coombes confirmed his work showed a tank in each Melbourne household could deliver a city-wide 120 gigalitres a year, more than twice previous estimates by water supplier Melbourne Water.[3]

In addition, some residents have been almost entirely self sufficient for water from 2001 to 2008 using domestic tanks in suburbs such as Surrey Hills and Brunswick.

Domestic water tanks are still supplying households and gardens, despite record low rainfall patterns. [4]

Voluntary personal water targets introduced in November 2008

In response to the dwindling water supplies in Melbourne's dams, the Victorian state government introduced voluntary water targets of 155 litres of water per day per person on November 24, 2008.[5][6]

A plan for sustainable water usage and management

  • Mandate water tanks for every new household - 5000 litres storage per bedroom - to catch and use rainwater.
  • Subsidise a retrofit scheme for water tanks to existing households, or provide a rebate on water bills for those who have tanks installed.
  • Aim to recycle 80% of the water we use, rather than just flushing it down sewers and out to the ocean. Cease putting water out at the Gunnamatta and other ocean outfalls.
  • Aim to reduce domestic usage to 120 litres per person per day
  • Stop logging Melbourne water catchments immediately - this should save 30 gigalitres of water per year.
  • Use recycled water for the cooling towers of Latrobe Valley power stations, rather than drinking water.
  • Design gardens that capture water. A lot of new housing developments have more paved area than garden, which results in more water runoff and less entering the soil and water table.
  • Shift agricultural usage to the most efficient methods. Eliminate sprinkler application and flood irrigation where they are still in use, in favour of drip irrigation.

See also

External links


  1. Holding hails statewide water savings, The Age, January 8, 2008
  2. Stage 3A water restrictions to remain in place, Melbourne Water, September 28, 2007
  3. Desal and water tank wars, Royce Millar, The Age, August 25, 2008
  4. Melbourne's spring drought set to send rainfall records to a new low, The Age, October 24, 2008]
  5. Our Water, Our Future - Target 155
  6. Tough new water limits, Paul Austin, The Age, November 24, 2008
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