Californians turn to Australia to learn how to fight drought

Melbourne, June 1 (IANS) Researchers in the drought-ravaged state of California have turned to Melbourne to learn more about effective strategies to combat drought, especially water-saving techniques.

California is suffering through one of its most severe dry periods on record, and researchers have found that strategies enacted in Melbourne during the Victorian drought that ended in 2010 were successful and could be used in the US.

Andrew Hamilton, from the School of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said California was similar to Melbourne in terms of climate, so the strategies which worked so well in Victoria could be successful utilised across the Pacific.

“California goes through periods of drought and has a similar climate overall, so when we put it and Melbourne alongside each other, we found Melbourne had adopted more strategies to combat drought,” Xinhua quoted him as saying on Monday.

The paper he co-wrote, titled “Fighting drought with innovation: Melbourne’s response to the Millennium Drought in South-east Australia” was published in the scientific journal, WIREs, and indicated that some Californian residents were using up to 1,313 litres of water every day, eight times more than the average Melbourne resident.

He said California’s water shortage was an amalgamation of poor regulation and a vastly different cultural stance on saving water.

“The main reason it is happening is that from a regulatory perspective they just didn’t enact the same controls as we have here in Melbourne,” Hamilton said.

“It’s also cultural. Whereas in Australia, we are very used to the concept of drought and we realise we just had to let some things go, such as gardens.”

Hamilton said Melbourne’s water restriction regime helped cut the average daily water use to half between 1997 and 2010, while California had no restrictions before this year: “There were no restrictions in California, particularly compulsory restrictions like in Melbourne where you had to follow them otherwise you would get in trouble.”

“California has only just this year brought in mandatory restrictions, before that they had voluntary restrictions, a concept which is a bit of an oxymoron.”

The Victorian government used the media to spread awareness of the dire situation during the region’s last drought, and while it might not have struck fear into the hearts of the locals, it served to raise awareness.

Daily updates of the state’s dwindling reservoir levels and television ads encouraging shorter showers made restrictions a daily topic of conversation, and Hamilton said it actively changed the culture around saving water in Melbourne.

The “Target 155” campaign encouraged people to use just 155 litres per day during the drought, by banning residents from watering their gardens, asking them to take two-minute showers and restricting car washes undertaken at home to just a bucket of water.

There were also government campaigns that encouraged residents to use the “half flush” function on toilets and only turn on dishwashers and washing machines when full.

Hamilton said a similar culture change in the US would not take long if properly enacted.

“It actually doesn’t take as long as one might think. Droughts are quite sudden and ‘Target 155’ campaign was almost immediate in its effectiveness,” he said.

The paper was funded by the US National Science Foundation, and was written as a collaboration between UC Irvine, the University of Melbourne, Federation University Australia and local water body Yarra Valley Water.

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