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Learning from Australia’s Drought: TreePeople Draws Lessons From Down Under


In 2012, TreePeople began an exchange between government, research and community organizations in Australia and Southern California. The aim of the program: to share innovations, best practices and experience in urban rainwater capture, water conservation practices and drought response—topics that are increasingly relevant as the climate of the American Southwest (and beyond) changes for the drier. The resulting study tour report highlights what we learned—both successes and challenges.

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  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I love that you did this with Australia. What were the top three changes you think you can make in water conservation practices based on what you learned from them?

    • edg

      Thanks for your comment, Alessandra. The three lessons that we found most applicable to the American Southwest (and other regions experiencing drought) were:

      1. Deep public education about water resources can create massive behavior change. Australian newspapers began publishing dam level updates alongside daily weather forecasts (among many other public education efforts). As a result, in cities like Brisbane and Melbourne, water demand dropped in half.

      2. Incentives really work! During the drought, Australians became extremely interested in rainwater harvesting. One third of Australian households now own a tank (that number is even higher in cities like Adelaide). The main motivator: drought + incentives = action!

      3. "Fit-for-purpose" water use makes sense. This approach means that water only needs to be treated to the level necessary for its intended purpose -- meaning that you don't need to flush your toilets with drinking water! This opens up the possibility of using rainwater or graywater for indoor and outdoor uses, and reduces demand for costly importation and treatment of water.

        • edg

          There's nothing like a water conservation challenge to make us aware of how much water we waste. Coming from LA, where average daily water use is about 500 liters per person per day, our team was humbled to learn that in Brisbane water use went from 300 liters before the drought to 120 liters during the height of the drought.

          In Southern California, much of our water goes toward outdoor uses (read: over-irrigating gardens that are not well-suited to a Mediterranean climate in the first place). TreePeople is working with communities as well as with government agencies and water utilities to facilitate widespread landscape transformation using native and climate-appropriate plant species, as well as promoting rainwater we can start building a reliable and sustainable LOCAL water supply.

          • Alessandra Rizzotti

            I'm amazed that it's possible for someone to use only 160 liters in 104 days. That's what GOOD member Rob Greenfield did recently: Looking forward to seeing what solutions you come up with to improve community gardens and landscaping so that it uses less water. I've seen creative things done with glass and colored rock and it actually turns out to be more beautiful than green grass.