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A Drought-Stricken Land Offers Help With Water

November 12, 2009
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From the New York Times

After more than a decade of failed rains, the Murray-Darling river system in the southeast of Australia — the catchment basin for roughly one-seventh of the country — dries up before it reaches the sea.

Intense drought has forced Australians to adapt and think about how to manage water. Despite usage restrictions and the building of new desalination plants, water remains scarce. At the end of August, reservoir storage levels in some metropolitan cities were as low as 28.4 percent of maximum capacity. The Pykes Creek reservoir in the state of Victoria, with a capacity of 22 billion liters, or 5.8 billion gallons, was barely 2.5 percent full.

“The approach is now to diversify supply, rather than relying on surface water,” said Andrew Speers, industry programs manager of the Australian Water Association, the industry’s main representative body.

In Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland and Australia’s third largest city, after Sydney and Melbourne, household water usage has been cut to 128,000 liters annually from 256,000 liters five years earlier, partly by installing dual-flush toilets, reducing shower head velocities and increasing consumer awareness.

Still, useful as this kind of economizing may be, it is irrigated agriculture that uses 70 percent of the world’s available water resources. The International Water Management Institute projects huge increases in irrigated cropland areas to meet rising demand for grain: a 30 percent expansion in South Asia by 2050 and a 47 percent expansion in East Asia.

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