Drought, rain, water & pollies – part 4

Continuing from part 3.

7. Cheap nasty agricultural practices

Take a drive through the irrigation districts in Victoria and New south Wales.

You will find hundred of kilometres of open irrigation channels. These are not small channels – these are a gouge in the ground about 4 – 5 metres across and goodness knows how deep. These channels are not lined, and not covered. The losses through evaporation are huge. So are the seepage losses.

Not only is water seeping through the channels, it raises the water table which makes salinity problems worse.

These channels have been built by state government authorities to deliver water to the irrigators, and it is ultimately up to state governments to get off their backsides and do something.

By contrast, take a drive through the irrigation areas in South Australia. When I was a child, there were open irrigation channels everywhere. These days you won’t find one. Somebody here was bright enough to put pipes in, years ago. A lot of money has been spent in SA converting to best practice irrigation through the fruit growing areas. It needs to happen elsewhere as well.

Similarly, when in irrigation areas, look at the practices of the farmers. There is almost no overhead / sprinkler irrigation left in South Australia. Drip systems and micro-jet sprinklers are normal, and seem to be used in 80% to 90% of farms (pastures excepted – but there is not much of that in SA). By contrast in Victoria there is a vast amount of overhead sprinklers being used to water grape vines and fruit trees. This is immensely wasteful.


8. Inappropriate use / mixed messages

Why do we still build fountains? Why do we allow domestic sales of fountains and things that waste water? Why do we have different rules about waste for domestic and commercial users?

We can’t take conservation seriously until there is a consistent message, and a consistent set of rules, consistently applied.

Two simple examples:

Westfield staff hose down the footways and entrances to my local monster big Westfield shopping complex. Why is it OK for Westfield, but its not OK for me to hose down my driveway? (Not that I want to hose down my driveway, but consistency is lacking.)

My local council has a large new housing subdivision near where I live, and in this they have wide footpaths, and gardens, and trees and things. Most of these are natives, so they don’t need a lot of water. But they also have many large nice green lawns, and many kilometres of strip lawn between footpath and roadway. This is all on automatic sprinkler systems. At least these run at night. But why is it necessary to have a sprinkler with a throw of 3 metres to water a 1 metre wide strip of lawn. This usually results in 1 to 2 metres of road being watered. Last I knew, water does not make the road grow.

9. Ignorance

So many people have no idea about what they use, or how to do better. Just look at those using showers in the local public pools. Walk in, spin taps so water is going flat out. Adjust temperature. What’s wrong with turning it on a little, to get enough, but no more?

Similarly for office buildings with auto-flushing cisterns. They still exist, even in fairly modern buildings. These are usually on the men’s urinals – the sort that fill and flush, about every 5 to 10 minutes, whether there has been anybody there or not; all day – and all night. Building owners and managers either don’t know, or don’t care.

Many of these measures are simple and won’t do anything about drought, but they will cut the profligate waste in the cities. A lack of hypocrisy is a powerful position to have when trying to force change on others.


Coming soon: What we should do.


What about evaporative airconditioning systems that use mains water and just blow damp air [water] into the house where it condenses if humid or goes out the window if it’s dry?

For many years, the righteous have promoted these as preferable to the refrigerated sort but think of the water totally wasted with these. Why not an immediate ban?

Comment by Dad | October 21st, 2006 9:31 am | Permalink

Well, they do use a lot less energy, but they are only suitable for use in dry heat. North of about Melbourne (on the coast), these things don’t sell because they don’t work very well.

In Australia, sales are limited to SA, parts of WA, and some of the inland regions of the other states that don’t have high rainfall (and hence have a natural low humidity).

All things considered they are probably a low impact on total water consumption. Mind you – I don’t like them because I dislike heat AND humidity.

Comment by Wally | October 21st, 2006 9:35 am | Permalink

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