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ACT's thirst for water must dry up, leading expert says

Date

Rosslyn Beeby

Canberra cannot rely on building bigger dams or piping water from the Murrumbidgee to ''create a buffer'' for future urban growth, a leading environmental scientist says.

University of NSW ecologist Professor Richard Kingsford said the city's growth would inevitably be curbed by climate change, and a rapidly rising level of increased water scarcity across the Murray-Darling Basin.

''We have to get serious about reducing water urban use, and we also have to lose the fudge factor around population and unchecked urban growth. We can't just think in terms of building more dams and pipelines to capture and store water. That's outdated thinking,'' he said.

Speaking in Canberra last night, Professor Kingsford said the basin - Australia's biggest food production region injecting $15 billion into the national economy - had ''dodged an environmental bullet'' with recent floods.

Delivering the Eric Rolls memorial address at the National Library in Canberra, Professor Kingsford said all Australians had to face the challenge of learning to live with less water in future.

''The choices are stark - be clever and reduce our demand for water and protect our rivers or build more dams and develop more rivers,'' he said. ''The former will be a path to sustainability and the latter will just increase our water footprint. It's high time we learned to adapt to our land of droughts and flooding rains, rather than failing time and time again to try to make it adapt to us.''

Speaking before the memorial address, which honours NSW farmer and award-winning environmental writer Eric Rolls, Professor Kingsford said Canberra could not expect to increase its take of water from the basin's river systems.

''After Adelaide, it's the second biggest city in the basin, and any water it takes from the rivers means less water for wetlands, flood plains and food production. More water for Canberra's new suburbs means less water for farmers further down the Murrumbidgee at Coleambally and less water for the low 'bidgee wetlands,'' he said.

The CSIRO has previously warned worsening climate change would force farms and towns along the Murray and lower Darling rivers to live with 41 per cent less water within 20 years.

''We live in the world's driest inhabited continents and so we should be leading the world in water management but we are profligate with our water use,'' Professor Kingsford said.

''We have the second highest per capita level of water use in the world, topped only by Turkemenistan - we use more than two and half million litres a year.''

6 comments so far

  • A leading Enviromental Scientist says...Here we go again..It sounds like cash for comment to me..

    Commenter
    Martin says
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    July 18, 2012, 9:30AM
    • Do I disagree? Nope! And while I think we need to consider how much domestic use we use per person it might also be worth considering:
      (a) why we have a bloody man made lake which has to be full year in year out,
      (b) how much water is being used by industry (e.g. that big grass firm on Monaro Highway,
      (c) whether or not we are willing to actually take a 'cut' in our standard of living (i.e. reduce our preferred amount of water) to look after the environment, or whether instead we like blaming other people than take the blame for the excessive consumption we place on the environment OURSELVES

      (N.B. It is always easier to see someone worse than to acknowledge that YOU are the problem).

      Commenter
      Anthony
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 18, 2012, 10:42AM
      • It makes you wonder why we bothered with the Cotter Dam and the huge burden to Canberra tax-payers, then? Speaking of which, what about the recent stories about ACTEWAGL selling 'surplus' water from the Cotter to interstate Govts? With all this scare-mongering you think we would be consolidating our water storage and not selling it of???

        Commenter
        Cam
        Date and time
        July 18, 2012, 10:42AM
        • Conroy, Gillard, Swan and Wong have all suggested that the NBN would enable people to work from home. If this statement is true, why not decentralise federal government departments allowing people from any location in Australia to work from their home instead of residing in Canberra? Seems to be a lot of double talk by the federal government on decentralisation and the benefits of the NBN. Put your words into action Gillard or is this just another example of double dutch?

          Commenter
          Tony of Brisbane
          Date and time
          July 18, 2012, 12:32PM
          • Tony..Don't tell me your still listening to this Government ? I gave up months ago.

            Commenter
            Martin says
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            July 18, 2012, 2:40PM
        • What a joke, these labor=greens pollies have to go locally and at a federal level before the whole country is ruined. Clowns the lot of them.
          They are quickly turning Canberra into an ugly concrete jungle. Look at ugly Gungahlin with its rows and rows of units and townhouses, narrow streets, backyardless anti kid houses with roofs almost touching, squashed in and depressing. Yet only exex level dual income childless couples could afford these dog boxes. What about the future social issues there? You could hear your neigbour snoring it is so squashed! Everyone already has rock gardens instead of lawn, water pressure in their houses so bad that the shower stops if someone turns a tap on, whatelse do they want? And all the while the costs and charges increases, hey they still need to make money on these things. The old use much less, but pay even more con and Canberra has bought it hook line and sinker in the name of the 'environment'.

          Commenter
          Peter
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          July 18, 2012, 2:01PM

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