Water storages plunging as Australia’s population balloons

By Leith van Onselen

With Australia’s population ballooning on the back of mass immigration, and projected to add around 360,000 people a year until 2066, The Economist last week warned that Australia likely to experience a “severe water shortage” by mid-century.

We won’t need to wait until mid-century, however, with dam levels across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane already hitting decade lows. From The Guardian:

Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have seen water levels hit near-decade lows after a hot summer and dry autumn…

In Sydney, inflows are at their lowest since 1940. Greater Sydney’s 11 dams were at a combined 55% capacity on Sunday – compared to 73% at the same time last year.

Sydney activated its desalination plant in January, when dam levels dropped below 60%, but levels continue to drop 0.4% a week…

In Melbourne, dam levels were at 51% on Monday, compared with 59% last year and 61% the year before.

Last month, Melbourne Water warned that storage “hasn’t been this low since April 2011”…

In Queensland, the south-east was also reaching a 10-year low. Neil Brennan, the chief executive of Seqwater, said in April that water levels were at their lowest since February 2010. Brisbane’s dams were at 70% capacity on Sunday, down from 82% last year…

On Monday, Peter Hatfield from Sydney Water told radio station 2GB that “we just haven’t had enough rainfall in the past couple of years.”

Water scarcity is the elephant in the room of the population debate, and an issue that Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ boosters and policy makers conveniently ignore.

How will these three cities cope as their populations roughly double in size over the next 50 years?

Last year, Dr Jonathan Sobels – a senior research fellow at the University of South Australia and the author of a key 2010 report prepared for the Department of Immigration entitled Long-term physical implications of net overseas migration: Australia in 2050gave a brilliant incisive interview on ABC’s Radio National that among other things warned that Australia’s water security is being placed at risk from endless mass immigration:

…we are coming up towards physical limitations within our physical, built and natural environments that will lead to compromises in the quality of our life…

Not only are the dams not filling, but the ground water supplies are not filling. The only option you have open to you is water efficiency use and whacking up desal plants. But if your population keeps increasing at the rates we have seen in recent times, you won’t be able to afford putting up billion dollar desal plants, which also have their environmental impacts…

Of course, desalination plants are environmentally destructive and hideously expensive, with costs borne by the incumbent population, as noted by The Conversation:

The desalination plants were expensive to build, consume vast quantities of electricity and are very expensive to run. They remain costly to maintain, even if they do not supply desalinated water. All residents pay higher water rates as a result of their existence.

Indeed, modelling by Infrastructure Australia in 2017 projected that household water bills would more than quadruple in real terms because of population growth and climate change, rising from $1,226 in 2017 to $6,000 in 2067. The report also warned that “the impact of these changes on household affordability could be substantial… and could lead to significant hardship”:

As noted in the 2010 report prepared for the Department of Immigration, entitled Long-term physical implications of net overseas migration: Australia in 2050:

Decreased urban water supply is a significant environmental constraint exacerbated by higher levels of NOM.  Modelling shows the vulnerability of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to deficits in water supply, on a NOM strategy of 260,000 pa.: a view strongly supported by empirical review of State Government reports…

Only NOM levels of 50,000 pa or less result in Melbourne and Sydney maintaining a small surplus of net surface supply over demand on average out to 2050, assuming current climate conditions persist. Potential options to alleviate water stress at high NOM levels over the longer term may be hard to find.

Clearly, Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy is a key threat to Australia’s water security. So why exacerbate the problem in the first place, when it can be ameliorated by simply returning Australia’s immigration intake back toward the historical average of 70,000 people a year?

Why aren’t more so-called experts and policy makers acknowledging these most basic of facts?

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