Most Australians accept we are in a one-in-1,000-year drought and that urgent action is needed to mobilise the nation’s technology and ingenuity to meet this challenge.
We have always been a very dry continent. Any extended continuation of the conditions we now face could render parts of Australia uninhabitable, with vast areas losing their productive capacity. It is a scenario almost too dreadful to contemplate, but contemplate - and take action - we must.
The Housing Industry Association takes the issue of sustainability seriously. The industry is not complacent over the fact that households are responsible for just 8 per cent of total water consumption, nor does it point the finger at larger water users such as agriculture which consume 70 per cent. Everyone must work to reduce their share and spread this precious and scarce resource more equitably for the long term benefit of all segments of the community and the environment.
In launching its GreenSmart initiative in the 1990’s HIA recognised the environmental imperatives that later became commonplace. Global warming and the prolonged drought have elevated environmental issues within the community with the industry now delivering sustainable developments that reduce water and energy use.
As a purely voluntary program, HIA GreenSmart has enjoyed good success through educating thousands of builders, tradespeople and suppliers and raising awareness through promotion and editorial. With environmental issues now firmly on the national and international agenda, GreenSmart is well positioned to deliver even more benefits.
The residential building industry in Australia is highly innovative and efficient and well placed to develop new systems to minimise water use, both in the development of new estates and in new or established housing.
We are playing a central role in building communities that recycle and reuse grey water, as well as harvesting runoff in tanks installed under roadways.
An example of innovative industry thinking is the 150-hectare Windmill Downs Estate north of Tamworth, where Sydney developer Combined Development Group is working with water specialists to “drought-proof” a new housing project through re-hydrating the landscape using household grey water. Other developers in urban Australia are exploring new approaches too, with recycled water systems installed to irrigate new estates.
Whatever option we choose, we must keep an eye on affordability, and while the new water technology is being developed in a cost effective fashion, it still faces regulatory hurdles that drive up the cost of its installation and delivery.
People seeking to use new water technology must first run the gauntlet of multiple approvals through different levels of government. Responsible and efficient regulation is important however, we must break down barriers that stifle innovation and delay the delivery of new systems. We must also encourage further research and development to encourage even more efficient measures within the building industry.
Significant water savings are generated from water efficient tapware and dual flush toilets which are currently being installed in all new homes and should be retrofitted into existing ones. Governments must develop incentives to encourage home owners to install these water efficient measures. Adopting such measures across capital cities in Australia would generate immediate water savings to the equivalent of more than 45,000 Olympic swimming pools annually.
Governments have a significant leadership role to play in tackling this crisis. British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes it dwarfs all other problems humanity has ever faced and the recent global conference on climate change in Nairobi was told that current warming conditions have not been experienced in at least 12,000 years. It has been suggested that the Arctic icecap will completely melt in summer within 30 years. It is a global threat that must be tackled on a global scale.
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