Monday, December 21, 2009

California taps Australia's expertise in coping with drought

Janet Zimmerman in the Press-Enterprise (Riverside, California): California's water experts struggling with drought and other supply crises are looking for coping strategies in Australia, where life has changed amid a 13-year dry spell and rising temperatures. A 10-person Western delegation recently toured Australian cities to get a handle on how the country has responded to its shortages.

Australia is suffering the driest period in more than a century of record keeping and scientists say it is most likely the result of climate change. The drought and heat have brought deadly fires and agricultural collapse, problems similar to what California has experienced on a lesser scale.

The tour group included Wendy Martin, the state's drought coordinator at the Department of Water Resources, who said she was struck by the effectiveness of conservation measures there. Water use is about 40 gallons per person, per day, including outdoor watering. California's per-capita average is 200 gallons. "We have a lot of room to improve, that was one of the striking messages," Martin said.

Some of the conservation measures that are common in Australia but still rare in the United States: rainwater tanks that capture water for gardens and toilet flushing; dual-flush toilets; dual house plumbing for recycled water; and water-efficient appliances in virtually every home, she said.

Water use outdoors, which accounts for about half of consumption, is also much more efficient. Residents use low-water native plants instead of grass and permeable pavement that allows water to sink back into the ground, Martin said….

A dry riverbed in California, from NOAA

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