Page 1432 - Week 04 - Thursday, 26 March 2009

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developing a water resource management strategy with detailed demand management targets and measures, introducing permanent water conservation measures and investing in major infrastructure to improve and expand our water treatment and storage capacity.

In relation to infrastructure, the government and Actew have augmented the water supply system through projects such as the Cotter to Googong transfer and enhanced water treatment to allow direct extraction from the Murrumbidgee for consumption, with any surplus transferred to Googong dam.

There is no doubt, Madam Assistant Speaker, that these measures are having an impact. We are, overall, meeting our targets and our gross consumption—that is, water extracted from the catchments—has reduced by 30 per cent. Our net water consumption—water actually used and not returned to the river—has decreased by 25 per cent or one-quarter. This reduced consumption has been achieved notwithstanding increased demand due to the hot weather conditions and population growth. However, it is becoming all too clear that the infrastructure and demand management measures we have implemented thus far will not be sufficient to address what we now see as the long-term outlook rather than a short-term severe drought.

Unfortunately we must now confront the very real potential that what we are facing is a step change in rainfall patterns over the south-eastern corner of the Murray-Darling Basin as forecast by CSIRO modelling of climate change. This step change means we must seriously contemplate the potential that climate change has seen a permanent reduction in our rainfall and also possibly a change in its pattern of fall. Such a step change has already happened in Western Australia, with a 25 per cent drop in rainfall, and there is a very real prospect that we are experiencing a similar step change in our region.

In the ACT, the persistent low rainfall has led to decreased storage levels and, more critically, to a very significant decline in the inflows to our rivers and streams. Under this step change scenario these reductions are permanent, rather than temporary, as in a drought.

To further illustrate the point, Madam Assistant Speaker, members may wish to note that every year since 2002, with the exception of 2005, the ACT has received less than its long-term average rainfall. Minimum temperatures have also risen over this period. Stream inflows have dropped considerably, such that inflows over the past seven years are 63 per cent below long-term averages. Inflows into our storages for 2006 were 26 gigalitres, in 2007, 66 gigalitres, and for 2008, 56 gigalitres. These inflows are not covering our normal gross extractions of 65 gigalitres per year for urban water use. For 2009, inflows for the first two months were only 2.8 gigalitres. They are the lowest on record.

Apart from water for extractions of 65 gigalitres, another 30 gigalitres of water is required to provide for environmental flows and to account for evaporation and spills after major storm events. ACT water consumption has also decreased greatly in recent years with temporary water restrictions. In 2008, our net water usage was the lowest in modern times of 18 gigalitres, almost half of what was being used in 2003.

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