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Lurching from one water crisis to the next

By Everald Compton - posted Tuesday, 21 February 2006


Ever since European settlers came to Australia over two centuries ago, the steady growth of the nation has stretched our water resources to the limit and yet successive governments, state and federal, have done little about conserving it.
 
As a result, we lurch from water crisis to water crisis while blaming it all on El Niño.
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Even the signing of the recent Water Agreement between the federal and state governments merely derived a means for people to sell water rights and provided some money to save the Murray River, but did little to solve the nation’s long term water problems. It was a major disappointment, so much so that Western Australia declined to sign it until recently.
 
As life is utterly impossible without water, it is quite staggering that no political leader has ever emerged who will devote his or her life to overcoming all of the bureaucratic barriers which stop us building up our reserves. The time to find such a person is now and that leader must bring Australians to the realisation that we have to do something urgently about these issues by openly acknowledging these facts and taking some painful initiatives such as:
  • as we are the driest inhabited continent on Earth, we must spend much more per head of population on establishing and maintaining an adequate water supply than other nations;
  • every home and business must pay at least 200 per cent more for water than they do now, with positive rebates being given for conserving its usage, and with the funds raised from this invested solely in the development of water resources;
  • all water must be used at least twice through good recycling programs, with every building (factory, office, hotel or home) being required by law to collect water for its internal use and then reuse it;
  • many more dams and water channels must be built and we must stop allowing over zealous environmentalists to declare this to be bad for Australia’s ecology - because it has been proven that it is not damaging if it is planned carefully;
  • heavy water consuming rural products, such as cotton, must be given financial incentives to relocate to our wet tropical areas where 98 per cent of rainfall now flows into the sea, instead of using enormous quantities of water in dry areas. This will cause a lot of angst in the bush, but it is a tough decision that cannot be avoided.
  • responsibility for water must become a legislative and financial responsibility of the Commonwealth, not the states, as much of our water flows across state borders and it is the Commonwealth that has the money to tackle the water challenge. It will then only require political will to allocate the necessary funds. 
Let me give some examples of why all of this is necessary and urgent.
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I am Chairman of the Australian Inland Rail Expressway Project and we are currently deeply involved in the planning of a section of the railway which will link the Surat Coal Basin in Queensland with the Port of Gladstone. This railway will open up eight coal mines and all of them need a guaranteed water supply. They have enough water to get the mines started, but nowhere near enough for the long term. The mothballed Nathan Dam project is now desperately needed and someone needs to bite the bullet and build it. After all, it has been on the radar screen for 50 years, but it is still in the “too hard basket” even though it does not have major hurdles to overcome.
 
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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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