It's been pretty hectic around the Beck homestead for the past few weeks -- my younger son had pneumonia and wasn't able to fly out on holiday as scheduled and my wife has lost her mind again (but that's a story for another time) -- so I haven't been able to blog as much as I normally do. Things have settled down a fair bit now so I'm going to take the opportunity to relax with a good old-fashioned Fisking.
The BBC looks at Perth's water supply situation in a news article
based on a Radio 4 Costing The Earth
program. Both the article and the radio program are atrociously inaccurate. I'll restrict my comments to the news article because Miriam O'Reilly's breathless reporting is so grating I had to stop listening.
The article makes the following observation early on:
Australians are some of the world's greatest energy consumers, and people in Perth use more water than any other city in Australia.
The energy use reference is included in an article about water just to remind readers that Australians are big per capita carbon dioxide emitters. The Perth water use claim is wrong
-- Brisbane uses the most water per capita, with Perth's water consumption being below the mean. But this is only the third paragraph of the article so there's still plenty of opportunity to screw up:
Yet theirs is also the driest climate in the world, and Perth sits right on the edge of a vast desert, an island of greenery in the form of European style parks and gardens.
Perth's long term annual rainfall average
is 862.7 mm, not even close to being the world's driest. And Perth does not sit on the edge of a desert
(a desert defined as an area receiving less than 250 mm of annual rainfall) -- the linked map is for the last three years, so remember to divide the rainfall figures by three to get the annual figure.
Perth sits above a vast ancient aquifer of 40,000-year-old water that has traditionally been the main source of drinking water. But in the mid 1970s there was a dramatic shift in climate that resulted in a decline of between 15% and 20% in winter rainfall.
Perth sits atop a number of aquifers; the water in the shallow aquifers is obviously not all that old and isn't potable in any event -- much of it is very mineral rich with hydrogen sulphide contamination common, which is why the water stains and stinks and isn't suitable for drinking. This is the water tapped into by the vast majority of home bores (wells) for garden watering. Contrary to what the article says, Perth's scheme water
comes approximately half and half from groundwater and surface catchment, with the new desalination plant projected to meet 17% of requirements.
By the mid 1990s, scientists realised they were facing more than a prolonged drought, that this was in fact climate change.
Don McFarlane, of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), says: "Climatologists tell us that it is the most profoundly affected city in the world. People have accepted that it is climate change.
Perth is not experiencing a prolong drought; rainfall has cycled downward over recent years but could well increase again -- a 30 year trend is not conclusive. The claim that Perth is "the most profoundly affected city in the world" is a new one on me. Time for another energy profligacy jibe:
People consume a lot of energy. It is a car-dependant city with little public transport. Many of the luxury houses overlooking the ocean (known locally as "starter mansions") boast currently fashionable black roofs that soak up the heat in temperatures of up to 42 degrees in summer, and produce a greater need for air conditioning inside.
There are a few dark roofs around but it's not like every other new house has a black roof. Not once in the almost 30 years I've lived in Western Australia have I heard anyone say "starter mansion" -- it doesn't sound even remotely Australian.
The following paragraph makes no sense at all:
Yet the Water Corporation is reluctant to clamp down on private water usage even though before current restrictions people were often watering their gardens in the middle of the day when the water was most likely to evaporate and be wasted.
People stopped watering during the heat of the day after being told it was a waste of water.
One gardener we spoke to for Costing the Earth told us that 90% of his water usage is for his garden and that it would break his heart if he ever had to stop watering and give up his beloved green lawns.
But Pierre Horwitz, associate professor of ecosystems at Edith Cowan University, Perth, questions why drinking water is being used for gardens to such an extent and says people have got to start using less water.
"If you compare our individual consumption rates, they're almost a third higher again than those in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. You just can't continue to sustain that."
Perth's per capita water consumption is not a third higher -- according to these government figures
, Perth's water consumption is lower than both Sydney and Brisbane. It makes sense for Melbourne to use less water because its climate is drier than Perth's. Now check this out for a contradiction:
Horwitz says people have been too complacent about the availability of water because of the vast ground water resource.
"We're actually mining water. This is a non-renewable resource and we have to constrain our behaviours so that we use what's replenishable rather than eat into our reserves."
Following this early wake up call to the onset of climate change, Perth's water experts are now leading the way in exploring new ways of providing water for this thirsty city. One of them involves recharging the aquifer with treated waste water - left over from people's washing machines and dish washers.
Horowitz says ground water is non-renewable but Perth experts are working on recharging the
aquifers with waste water. Go figure.
Gary Crisp, the corporation's desalination engineer, is proud of their achievements: "What we've done [in Perth] is truly pioneering stuff.
However, he does concede that, ultimately, Perth is going to have to pay more for its water.
"At the current prices in Australia, there's not enough water to go around and there's not enough incentive for people to use less."
And that is the only true solution to Perth's water crisis - learning to live with less water and maybe even giving up some of those beautiful green lawns.
Otherwise that prediction that it could become a ghost town may yet come true.
Just think of the water that could be saved if the government paid people to rip out their water-guzzling lawns and replace them with water-sipping native gardens. Nah, lefties are always keen for people with money to pay more for the government services they receive.
Anyway, both the BBC article and the radio program are shit, there's no getting around it.