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Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters: Confronting the Water Crisis in Australia's Cities

Edited by Patrick Troy
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Troubled Waters
    Book Description:

    Australian cities have traditionally relied for their water on a 'predict-and-provide' philosophy that gives primacy to big engineering solutions. In more recent years privatised water authorities, seeking to maximise consumption and profits, have reinforced the emphasis on increasing supply. Now the cities must cope with the stresses these policies have imposed on the eco-systems from which they harvest water, into which they discharge wastes, and on which they are located. Residents are having to pay more for their water, while the cities themselves are becoming less sustainable. Must we build more dams and desalination plants, or should we be managing the demand for urban water more prudently? This book explores the demand for urban water and how it has changed in response to shifting social mores over the past century. It explains how demand for centralised provision of water might be reshaped to enable the cities to better cope with expected changes in supply as our climate changes. And it discusses the implications of property rights in water for proposals to privatise water services.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-84-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Aquatic Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: The water services problem
    (pp. 1-6)
    Patrick Troy

    Despite the urgency with which Australian cities now face the problem of inadequate water supplies, and despite the impact of recent patterns of changes in climate on those supplies, the roots of the water problem are deeply historical and can only be addressed by accounting for intersecting technological, cultural, economic and political factors. Together these factors have entrenched a path dependency in the way water services are supplied and attitudes towards them that must be thoroughly questioned if the current crisis is to be understood and addressed. This book summarises these intersections as a preliminary to the consideration of alternative...

  6. Chapter 1 The life and times of the Chadwickian solution
    (pp. 7-18)
    Tony Dingle

    This chapter provides a thumbnail sketch of the historical evolution of the water-supply and sewage-disposal systems currently in use in Australiaʹs cities. We can begin with the inescapable physiological fact that, as humans, we need to drink a certain volume of water each day to sustain life and we produce a modest quantity of faeces and urine as wastes of our body metabolism. Were we Robinson Crusoe, or any other member of the animal kingdom, we could drink from the pure limpid stream and vacate wherever the fancy took us, confident that natural processes would recycle the nutrients. That option,...

  7. Chapter 2 The water crisis in Southeast Queensland: How desalination turned the region into carbon emission heaven
    (pp. 19-36)
    Peter Spearritt

    If you flew into Brisbane in 2006 you were greeted with a huge advertising hoarding on the airport drive with the words:

    ʹHead to Queensland. The climateʹs great for growth.ʹ

    The text was set to a backdrop of vast humanoid cranes walking across a brown landscape. The state government advertising campaign, run nationally, reminded punters of Queenslandʹs booming open-cut coal mines, and set the scene for a state on which the sun never sets. Demographers, senior public servants, property developers and Premier Beattie bragged that SEQ was the fastest growing area in Australia, with more than 1000 people a week...

  8. Chapter 3 Down the gurgler: Historical influences on Australian domestic water consumption
    (pp. 37-66)
    Graeme Davison

    Australian city-dwellers are a thirsty people. Between the mid-nineteenth century and the present, the average daily consumption of water in Melbourne and Sydney has nearly trebled, from around 100 litres per head to around 300 litres per head. Industrial and other non-domestic users absorb about one-third of the flow but most is consumed in the bathrooms, laundries, kitchens, gardens and swimming pools of private homes. Usage has fluctuated across this period in a stepwise fashion. The first step in the later nineteenth century was associated with the introduction, under the influence of sanitary reformers, of piped water and underground sewerage,...

  9. Chapter 4 Nature, networks and desire: Changing cultures of water in Australia
    (pp. 67-80)
    Lesley Head

    I have recently been analysing urban Australian relations to nature through the lens of the backyard garden. The quotes above are from three study participants, interviewed by team members during fieldwork in 2002–3. Water surprised us by emerging as one of the most important aspects of peopleʹs domestic environmental engagements. Nearly five years later, this consciousness is less surprising and likely even more entrenched.

    Keith is referring to Alice Springsʹ average annual rainfall of 286mm. He is apparently well attuned to the realities of living in the centre of the driest permanently inhabited continent. He has learned to live...

  10. Chapter 5 Urban water: Policy, institutions and government
    (pp. 81-98)
    Steve Dovers

    This chapter seeks to connect discussion of human behaviours around water not to taps, toilets and timing showers, or dams and desal plants, as much discussion (very usefully) does, but to the policy processes and instruments, institutional and governance systems, and household realities that shape human and organizational behaviours toward water in a modern society and economy. The focus is on urban water, but the discussion necessarily travels to rural water and issues like energy that cannot easily be separated from water. The chapter comprises a series of linked discussions on issues that surround more singular policy debates around water,...

  11. Chapter 6 Sustainability in urban water futures
    (pp. 99-114)
    Geoff Syme

    There is now a substantial literature defining and encouraging sustainable urban water management. Nevertheless, the responses of urban water utilities to changed demand and supply options have tended to focus on technological solutions, new sources and well-worn approaches to demand management. While there is increasing interest in water-sensitive urban design, whole-of-lifecycle economic consideration and the incorporation of externalities into pricing and cost-benefit analyses, there are significant areas of sustainability that have received scant attention. These neglected areas tend to relate to the difficulty in creating, as opposed to promoting, the concept of sustainability that includes social and cultural assessment, integrated...

  12. Chapter 7 Exploiting the unspeakable: Third-party access to sewage and public-sector sewerage infrastructure
    (pp. 115-156)
    Janice Gray and Alex Gardner

    Water has the capacity to capture the imagination, particularly the Australian imagination. Historically, it has loomed large in Australian literature, film and art, both overtly and suggestively. Sometimes it has been a site of celebration, sometimes a site of pain and darkness. The breadth of water imagery is vast. A cursory reflection brings to mind Pattersonʹs Clancy of the Overflow,¹ Slessorʹs Five Bells, Wintonʹs Cloudstreet, Dreweʹs The Drowner and The Bodysurfers, as well as Streetonʹs painting Sunlight Sweet, Coogee, and Doneʹs prolific collection of harbour and beach paintings, for example.² The subject of water in these representations is commonly fresh,...

  13. Chapter 8 Property in urban water: Private rights and public governance
    (pp. 157-186)
    Lee Godden

    How ironic must the words of Dorothea Mackellar now seem in an era of climate change, drought, and increasing pressure on water across all facets of Australian life? To the first stanza of this poem, duly mouthed by the sing-song voices of generations of Australian children, I have added two lesser-known lines from a later stanza. What I would suggest, moreover, is that, in fact, the debt runs the other way — the Australian people have taken threefold and our use of water runs at highly unsustainable levels in both rural and urban areas. The debt will not be paid...

  14. Conclusion: A new solution
    (pp. 187-210)
    Patrick Troy

    By the 1860s Australian cities were generally facing four problems with their water supplies:

    They had poor supplies of potable water, resulting in infections from water-borne contagions.

    They were unsanitary and had increasing difficulties, including threats to health, in dealing with the disposal of human and other wastes of urbanisation.

    They suffered periodically from poor drainage of stormwater.

    They experienced crises due to a lack of convenient supplies of water to fight fires.

    While all four were important, the health of their population was the prime consideration in securing new water supplies. The mid-century recognition in England, documented by the...

  15. Index
    (pp. 211-218)