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Water Time to Be Alive!

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill, Member for Coogee on August 6, 2019 in Other

Coogee on a not-so-stinky day, by Megan Rain.

With all the rain that has fallen on the Eastern Suburbs of late, one could be forgiven for thinking the drought across the metropolitan area and regional NSW has broken. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case. Despite the recent rains, Western Sydney and rural areas remain dry and Sydney’s overall dam levels across the catchment are just over 50 per cent.
The State Government likes to boast about infrastructure spending, but one area where they’ve really missed the mark is water supply investment and infrastructure. You simply can’t sustain a city without water.
The story of post-European Sydney, going right back to the earliest days, is a story about water. With the imposition of a foreign civilisation on an ancient, dry land, our society grew and was shaped around its expanding water supply. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Eastern Suburbs and inner-city areas. Whether it was the rapidly polluted Tank Stream in the city from 1788, the augmented water supply system of Busby’s Bore from Centennial Park in the 1820s or the Botany Swamps Scheme in the 1850s, Sydney could only grow if ever-increasing water resources could be discovered and tapped.
Our city grew with the creation of the Nepean Dam in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then Warragamba Dam in 1960, followed by the last big dam augmentation, the Wingecarribee Scheme, in the 1980s.
In the early 21st century the Millennium Drought hit and dam levels consequently plunged to their lowest in history at just above 30 per cent capacity. While recent rainfall has been welcome, the drought has shown that it is essential for us to secure sources of water that are independent of rainfall.
The key to effective water policy is finding a responsible balance as Sydney can no longer rely on a single source of water. Dam water must be in the mix. Various recycled water schemes have been implemented for non-drinking purposes and desalination has been brought into effect at Kurnell. Another component is stormwater harvesting – highly relevant to our part of the city where we are fortunate to receive rainfall while other areas may not. Another key plank of water policy is demand management. We must conserve our precious water resources and use water more wisely.
The delayed introduction of water restrictions and late activation of the desalination plant means dam levels are still falling to dangerous levels and the state needs to start planning further capital investment.
Some economists have suggested that the cost of water should vary depending on the dam levels, but I’m not convinced. This would lead to wealthier households having a higher ability to wash their clothes (and their kids) and businesses would struggle to plan due to uncertainty surrounding the cost of this essential resource. Ultimately, this could mean lifting prices many times, but it still won’t make it rain!
The capture and use of stormwater has huge potential and there are many steps we can take to conserve water locally. Think rainwater tanks, stormwater detention basins, filtered rainwater for toilet flushing and significant stormwater reuse to irrigate our parks and gardens. All of this is achievable if, as the old cliché goes, we ‘think globally and act locally’.
As a Waverley councillor and state parliamentarian, I believe governments at all levels should be investing more in local schemes like stormwater harvesting and rebates to encourage the use and maintenance of rainwater tanks, as well as the reuse of rainwater on and around government facilities and green spaces. None of this is that hard if politicians have the will. From my many discussions with people in the electorate, I know the community is behind such initiatives.
An additional benefit of stormwater capture and treatment is the reduction in pollution of our waterways. If we can boost the reuse of stormwater in Coogee we can also clean up the Beach and fix that longstanding problem the locals know all too well.
Perhaps one day Coogee will lose the nickname given by its traditional owners and will be a ‘place of bad smells’ no more!