California Turns To Australia For Tips To Conserve Water And Overcome Drought

California Turns To Australia For Tips To Conserve Water And Overcome Drought
Lake Hume at 4% – 6531 Tim J Keegan / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

After enduring the longest drought on its soil, California seeks solutions to overcome the adversity from the driest inhabited continent.


Called by poet Dorothea Mackellar as “a sunburnt country,” southeast Australia suffered the Millennium Drought that lasted for more than a decade. The continent had to bear dying cattle, barren fields and wildfires that killed more than a hundred people in addition to imposing strenuous water restrictions.

However, by the time the dry spell gave way to rainfalls in 2010, Australians had learned how to effectively conserve water and monitor its availability and how it is being used. The daily average usage, owing to efficiency programs, was cut down to 55 gallons; in contrast to the Californians usage of 105 gallons a day.

After overcoming the exhaustively long drought, rainwater tanks were installed in one in three homes in Melbourne, according to Business Insider. In addition, many built retention ponds to contribute to urban water supply. The daily water usage was slashed down by half that what it was in 1997 when the drought began.

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Stanley Grant, a University of California Irvine civil and environmental engineer, said in a news release, “Documenting what happened in Melbourne during the Millennium Drought was a real eye-opener. It’s like looking into what the future could be for California, if we got our act together.”

Melbourne also adopted an integrated water management system, a concept that researchers believe has been the most significant factor in Melbourne’s efficient conservation of water. Funds were provided by federal programs to the state of Victoria, with the officials then aiding Melbourne.

One of the researchers, David Feldman, said, “You can’t just come up with technical innovations and think that’s going to do the trick. You need education, you need public outreach, and you need all these people working on it. During the drought in Australia, if you watered your lawn, you heard about it from your neighbors.”

For the Californians, however, adopting Australian practices might be more difficult. Since the Australians are used to living in dry land, they only expect government intervention during a crisis. Californians, on the other hand, have been supplied water in abundance almost throughout their history.

Daniel Connell, an environmental policy expert at The Australian National University, said, “The outstanding feature of the California drought is the way in which it’s been allowed to become incredibly serious, with — from an Australian perspective — an absolutely pathetic and nominal sort of response. The main difference between California and Australia is they’re dominated by a legalistic approach and dominated by rights, and we’ve got a much more public-policy approach.”

According to US News and World Report, Connell called the drought response of California as “absolutely pathetic.”

Linda Botterill, of the University of Canberra, said, “We can expect longer, deeper and more severe droughts in Australia, and I believe the same applies in the U.S. As a result, we need to develop strategies that are not knee-jerk responses, but that are planned risk-management strategies.”

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