Australia has been suffering from intense drought over the past several years. Many locations, including Melbourne and Sydney, have recently had water storage levels as low as 35% of their full storage capacity (the full storage level does not include floods). This has resulted in many water restrictions and high water prices, as you might imagine. Currently, a series of unusual rain events have raised the storage capacity to above 50% across New South Wales (Ref: National Water Commission). The key word here is unusual – these rain events are not expected to continue on an annual basis. While NSW has water now, in the very near future, we may be back to water restrictions.
One of the areas of New South Wales that is most affected by drought is the northwestern slopes area. This area is at the headwaters of the Darling River, and a lot of cotton and rice is grown there. As a result, the Darling frequently suffers from low water levels, high pollution and high salt content. While I believe in locally made products, this makes me question whether I should buy rice and cotton products that are made in Australia. Does it make sense to buy these products, which are grown in climatologically poor water areas? Or should I buy products that are shipped from Asia, that don’t have as much of a negative impact on water levels, but are made by underpaid and poorly treated workers, and are shipped thousands of miles across the world, thereby using our precious fossil fuels and contributing to more carbon emissions? I don’t think there’s any easy answer to this.
On a personal level, Ethan and I struggle with water conservation. I have no idea how much water we use. Back in Alaska, our landlord paid one fee for the building, so we never had to pay water useage. Ethan loves baths, and I am constantly watering my flowers. I also suspect that my methods of washing dishes waste a lot of water.
Unfortunately, renting restricts some of the conservation measures I would like to take. A rain barrel is not an option, because of the way our downspouts are built (can’t exactly cut into them). A gray water system is completely out of the question. We do have a dual flush toilet, but unfortunately, the half-flush just doesn’t work very well. I’m hoping to take some more sustainability courses that might give me some clues as to how to reduce our water useage. In the meantime, we will have to be more cognizant of our usage. I’m sure our water bills over the next few months will make us more aware.