Sensible opinions on water

In today’s Age, Brendan O’Reilly endorses my suggestion that a simpler way of dealing with water is to allocate households a quantity rather than arbitrary restrictions.

Our water authorities should settle on a sustainable figure for a household and make that the long-term ration. If we have a year or two of bumper rains the ration can go up. If the drought goes on for years it can go down.

I’d be happy with a water ration of 300 litres a day. This would cut Melbourne’s domestic water consumption by about half. It might be tough at times but it would be up to us to manage. We could water the garden or we could have a deep bath every day but we couldn’t do both. How we use our water would be our business and our neighbours wouldn’t be encouraged to spy on us as we water the tomatoes.

More critically, it points out that it will soon all get worse. Gardens will be essentially outlawed. We just got a ridiculous $6000 quote for a dripper water system. It is all the more so given that those will be outlawed soon.

All this while at the same time there is no pressure to deal with basic household water uses. According to my bill from Yarra Valley Water, despite essentially stopping watering of the garden our water consumption dropped only 10 percent! Now this could be because they are not reading the meter but if true it suggests that this policy is truely arbitrary and more drastic measures are required. You will only be able to do more drastic things if you also think about matching policy with the true goal — long-term water management.

[Update (12th February, 2007): John Quiggin has a new paper out with CEDA today that pretty much endorses sensible approaches to water trading and restrictions. Click here for a report.]

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