New South Wales residents have been urged to introduce water-saving measures before a looming drought causes major water storages to drop.
It comes as data from Sydney Water revealed that households in Sydney’s richest suburbs use up to three times more water than the citywide average, and up to five times more than those living in regional and rural areas.
The report, released as part of a call to Sydney residents to help conserve water, said households in the leafy north and eastern suburbs consumed the most water, while residents in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury region had the lowest usage.
Households in Duffys Forest used 178,910L in the first quarter of 2023, followed by households in Point Piper with 175,130L and Bellevue Hill with 124,660L. Analysis by Guardian Australia based on ABS household data shows this amounts to an average daily use of 621L, 884L and 554L litres per person, per day, respectively. The average use across Sydney Water’s service area is 200L per person per day.
All of greater Sydney is considered drought-affected, with 60% of the city drought declared.
Sydney Water’s head of water supply and production, Ben Blayney, said daily monitoring of the city’s water storage and usage was showing “a series of red flags”.
“These are the same trends we experienced going into the last drought,” he said.
“There is a perception that the dams are full and Sydney’s water supply is endless … We cannot wait until the dams are empty to take action.”
University of Sydney associate professor Petr Matous said city-dwellers could feel disconnected from the water supply, and therefore not see it as finite.
“In the heat islands of city centres, where there is no perceived limit on water coming through the mains, no clear link between consumption and costs in our minds, and when there are no enforced restrictions on outdoor water use, the easiest thing is to just turn the tap on,” he said.
“After several years of abundant rains and full water reservoirs, water saving has not been on the top of public discourse and our minds. We will need to be re-sensitised to the issue again as we are heading into drier conditions.”
Orange, in the central west, is not built on a major river, a feature that mayor Jason Hamling said had shaped the regional city’s approach to conserving water and preparing for drought.
The council began harvesting stormwater from the Blackmans Swamp and Ploughmans Creek catchment in 2019-2020, in response to a critical water shortage.
“Orange residents live with the memory of the time when our major water supply dam dropped to 23%,” Hamling said. “That’s a key motivator of our water saving campaigns.”
Orange has permanent water use guidelines, meaning residents are only allowed to water their gardens every second day and only in the morning or evening. The council also shares weekly updates of the average number of litres used per person, per day – an awareness effort also used by Dubbo and Bellingen shire councils to encourage water conservation year-round.
“We’re not interested in fining people,” Hamling said. “We’re interested in educating people on how best to use this precious resource.”
Permanent water use guidelines have also been introduced in Armidale, Tamworth and across the Central Coast. A spokesperson for Tamworth shire council said it was important to reduce water wastage in average years, because “once we are in drought conditions it is too late to conserve water”.
Guidelines are intended to “develop a culture of water efficiency”, she said.
The Central Coast has set an “aspirational” target of 150L per person, per day.
“Long-term water conservation and water efficiency helps keep our dams fuller for longer,” said Jamie Loader, the director of water and sewers at Central Coast council. “This increases our resilience to future droughts, a changing climate, and a growing population.”
Andrew George, the chief executive of WaterNSW, said dam storage levels across NSW were “very high and in the best possible situation for right now” but that conscious water use now would reduce the chance of reaching critical levels.
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