A study finds residents of Melbourne cut their water consumption in half by capturing rainwater and storm-water runoff and using efficient toilets and washing machines.
If you think California’s four-year drought is apocalyptic, try 13 years. That’s how long southeastern Australia suffered through bone-dry times.
But it survived. When the so-called Millennium Drought ended in 2009, residents of Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, were using half the amount of water they had when it began.
A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, set out to investigate how Melbourne, a city of 4.3 million people, dramatically cut water consumption, and whether the city’s experience might hold lessons for California and other drought-stricken regions.
The short answer? Salvation came from a $2,000 rainwater tank rather than a $6 billion desalinization plant.
As the Millennium Drought dragged on, authorities approved the construction of costly infrastructure projects similar to those now being considered in California, including that expensive desalinization plant. But the researchers found that conservation and recycling were the keys that got Melbourne through year after rainless year, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal WIREs Water.
Melbourne residents took advantage of government rebates for home rainwater tanks to capture runoff from roofs, using it to water plants and flush toilets. The state of Victoria also changed the building code to require the tanks in all new homes.
By 2009, about a third of homes were capturing free water from the sky and supplying 2 percent of Melbourne’s potable water.
The government also offered subsidies for purchase of water-efficient showerheads, toilets, and washing machines, which combined cut Melbourne’s water use by 4 percent a year.
Since more stormwater runoff courses through the city and flows into rivers and the ocean than residents use in a year, the government moved to capture, treat, and reuse some runoff for irrigation. The city also ramped up the use of gray water and recycled water from sewage treatment plants.
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