Water politics

Last week, after a week of sustained rain (and fortunately not too much more flooding), Sydney’s dam levels got to 50%. The last time they were that high was May 2004*. For the past three years, Sydney has had ever increasing levels of worry about our water crisis. People have bought water tanks, low flow shower heads, water saving toilet flushes, etc. etc.

And the state government has dithered about it, finally promising to build a water desalination plant. In May 2004, the disaster was that the dams were half empty. Now that they are half full, commentaters have quickly changed the bandwagon. From Miranda Devine** this week,

“As the rain pours down on Sydney this week, we are left with these absurd legacies of the drought, from small-throated toilets to dribbling showers to Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s latest discussion paper about putting recycled sewage into our drinking water.”

I hate the way the solutions to our environmental crises are so political. Why is it left wing to suggest that it would be sensible to try to recycle water so that we don’t just use it once and send it out to sea? Why is it right wing to diminish a problem once the crisis has moved a bit further away, or argue that dams are the only solution?

It’s complicated, particularly as there are differing scientific views still on whether global warming is likely to reduce the available rainfall in the Sydney basin. But a week of rainfall doesn’t invalidate the conclusion that Sydney needs to do something different to secure its water supply for the next century.

Update: Via Barista, here is a comprehensive demolition of the rest of Miranda Devine’s article from deltoid, a blog I must add to my bloglines feed.


* The people responsible for measuring our water supply changed their measurement about a year ago to count some water that they refer to as “expanded storage” – groundwater we can access in an emergency. We would still be below 50% if it wasn’t for that

** Thanks to Mr Penguin for having the stomach to read all the way through a Miranda Devine opinion piece to find this quote.