Water scarcity is only going to get worse as we see the effects of climate change kick in, and we all could use water more efficiently.
Svinos wants to take it up with local government. “You can’t govern with a blanket policy. There is never going to be one solution that suits everyone,” she says, reflecting on what she has learnt studying the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“Not just in water policy but in different areas, including energy, you need to be more localised than the federal government,” she continues. “Local councils need to be deciding what the best technology is to use in that area and what measures should be put in place.”
“We need to start doing something about this now – not when we have another drought.”
Indeed, some people are taking matters into their own hands.
The human geographer
Carrie Wilkinson grew up on tank water just outside of Batemans Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales. When rain was forecasted, her dad would run a hose from their catchment tank to the household tank to make sure one was ready to catch as much rain as possible.
“The South Coast is typically dry in the winter and very wet in summer. It’s all about capitalising on the boom and bust rainfall pattern when you’re wholly reliant on water tanks,” she explains.
Returning to her roots, Wilkinson has been studying residential water tank use on the South Coast for her PhD with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research. She surveyed over 200 households and interviewed 50 more from the coastal towns of South Durras, Congo, Bingie and Meringo, and inland at Nelligen to understand their motivations for being self-sufficient for water.
“Most households had at least two rainwater tanks. Many had three, with several on acreage having five or six. The residents I interviewed, they’ve all invested in the infrastructure for their homes to suit their needs,” she says.
There are many benefits of being self-sufficient in water, which Wilkinson has documented in her research. She says you have to be flexible and inventive, and you become more engaged with where you live.
“A lot of participants talked with great pride about the skills that they had learnt to manage their water,” Wilkinson says. “You’re the CEO of your water company. You’re in charge.”
Many households had been living on tank water for decades, and most were not concerned about water shortages. “They were confident they could manage – that they could get through dry times without tapping into bigger water systems.
“People were more concerned with the water they were wasting. They were reusing and recycling water as many times as possible.”
Wilkinson is encouraging of urban households that install water tanks and hopes that we can learn from the resilience of self-sufficient communities. “They have all this knowledge, skills and experience that can translate to bigger conversations [on water shortages].”
Many people in her study lived on blocks similar in size to lots in the Illawarra. “Our cities are sprawling, but there’s so much potential to do more. A lot of people have tanks beneath their houses.”
Reducing our water usage is an easy starting point. A person in Sydney uses on average about 295 litres a day without thinking about where that water comes from. “It was one of those stats that I had to keep reading and ask, ‘Am I reading this correctly?’” Wilkinson says, shocked by the numbers.
Living on tank water dramatically changes your behaviour, she says, until it just becomes something in the back of your mind.
“You are far more aware of the water that you consume when you rely on water tanks,” she says. “Your water source is a right next to your house, not a dam hundreds of kilometres away.”