Mismanagement, Not Drought, Won Water Shortage
'Radical rethink urged on water' by Lachlan Heywood The Courier-Mail, (18/9/2006)

Southeast Queensland should have more than enough water to go around. A damming report by the Business Council of Australia says the community is paying the price for a flawed water system.

The report, to be issued today, says Australia's water crisis is manmade and governments have many courses available to remedy it. But instead of taking the hard decisions, they simply resort to imposing harsh water restrictions.

Tough level 4 restrictions agreed to by the 12 affected southeast Queensland councils are expected to take effect in November. Pool owners wanting to use town water will have nine months to buy evaporation-reduction covers.

Business Council chief executive Katie Lahey yesterday said restrictions, instead of sustainable solutions, were being offered.

"Australians would not tolerate being asked to continually burn candles at night to avoid ... blackouts, so we should not accept a water supply system that requires 80% of Australians to endure ever-harsher water restrictions. We cannot solve urban water issues with water restrictions alone. Water use in our major cities has declined by 9% since 2001 but ... supply problems are getting worse," she said

The Business Council of Australia paper has a detailed plan for fixing water supplies and water management nationally, and calls for a national review to ensure everyone pays a fair price for water. Ms Lahey said the Council of Australian Governments needed to adopt a national approach to the problem.

"It is true that water is scarce in parts of the country and rainfall is declining — but it is our water system, not the amount of water available for potential use, that is the real problem," she said.

The report highlights the problems in southeast Queensland.

"Without systematic change to Queensland's water system and expanding the range of options for additional water supplies, increasing water restrictions will inevitably extend from residential to business users, creating a direct constraint on the economy of southeast Queensland," it said

At a Singapore meeting yesterday, Treasurer Peter Costello named water policy as a key challenge for Australia. He said co-ordination was needed between all levels of government.

"Water reform needs to be focused in a number of areas. All governments need to improve approaches to water pricing," Mr Costello said. "But there is still too much backsliding by the states, and ... too little truly innovative thinking about Australia's large-scale water challenges."