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Health more important than saving water

It's "expected" for Victorians to consume more water during extreme heat, says Water Minister Peter Walsh, adding Melburnians now use less water than in previous decades, despite a million more people.

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Melbourne households used a record amount of water earlier this month, when daily average consumption reached 255 litres a person - the highest since Melbourne Water began reporting daily per head use in 2009.

The record-breaking usage was reported during the week ending Thursday, January 16 as Melbourne sweltered through one of its hottest weeks on record.

The previous record was 249 litres a person a day reported in March last year.

Seven-year-old Niamh cools down under the sprinkler in her backyard in Melbourne's inner west yesterday.

Seven-year-old Niamh cools down under the sprinkler in her backyard in Melbourne's inner west yesterday. Photo: Jason South

Although the history-making peak in water consumption coincided with the state's week-long heatwave, during which temperatures in Melbourne reached more than 40 degrees on four consecutive days, daily average water usage so far this year has been well above the previous daily usage target of 155 litres a day.

In the week ending January 23, daily average use was 241 litres a person. In February 2011, Water Minister Peter Walsh scrapped the Target 155 water-saving strategy implemented by the Brumby government in December 2008, claiming it was ''political spin'' that did not significantly save water.

Less than a week later, a report by Melbourne water retailers told a different story - claiming the target had saved more than 53 billion litres of drinking water between December 2008 and August 2010.

Annual water usage figures from Melbourne Water show average residential water consumption dropped during the Target 155 scheme and has risen since it was abolished. In 2011-12, average water use jumped from 140 litres a person a day to 149 litres a person a day. In 2012-13 it rose further to 161 litres a day.

Despite the recent rise in residential water usage, Melbourne Water maintains Melburnians are generally using less water than in previous decades.

Between 1990 and 1999 the average residential water consumption was 254 litres a person a day.

However, Environment Victoria says recent increases in consumption reflect the need for ongoing water usage targets.

''We are worried we're going to go back to an era of water Wallys now that there are no targets in place,'' said Environment Victoria chief executive Kelly O'Shanassy.

Ms O'Shanassy would also like to see the Napthine government increase the water use component of water bills to encourage Victorians to use water more efficiently.

She says despite recent water bill increases households are not being given enough incentive to save.

The average Melbourne household pays 55 per cent in variable charges - for water use and sewerage disposal; and 45 per cent for fixed service delivery charges.