Greater Sydney’s response to the drought and falling dam levels of recent years has been nothing short of exceptional. During the recent drought, water restrictions helped save over 575 billion litres, keeping more water in the dams. This is more than the amount of water used by greater Sydney in 2009-10.
The recent extended period of severe drought has also deepened our understanding of the effects of drought on our water supply and demand.
When drought conditions occur in the future, we have a number of options available that can be implemented with relatively short lead times. This will slow the rate at which our total dam storage level drops.
Common sense Water Wise Rules have replaced all drought restrictions for Sydney, Illawarra and the Blue Mountains for the time being.
However, drought water restrictions remain a key element of the 2010 Metropolitan Water Plan and can be re-introduced should drought conditions return. This ability to turn restrictions on/off as dam levels change is one of the adaptive management measures under the NSW Government’s Metropolitan Water Plan.
Restrictions are used around the country as a cost-effective means of reducing pressure on water supplies during drought and can enable the Government to avoid or defer the need to invest in other drought response measures.
It is important however to save restrictions for when the drought bites. That’s why we now have Water Wise Rules – to continue the common sense water wise behaviour of all Sydney-siders as well as save restrictions for when we need them.
As we updated the Metropolitan Water Plan for the longer term, the Government reviewed drought restrictions based on their effectiveness during the recent drought, projected future savings (especially in light of permanent savings through Water Wise Rules) and impacts on the community, industry and the environment.
If drought restrictions were required in the future a new simplified regime of two levels of restrictions would be introduced that would build on the existing Water Wise Rules. This option allows people and business to continue to use water efficiently, while achieving similar savings.
The exact timing for introducing drought restrictions will be influenced by Sydney’s total dam storage level, predicted weather patterns, the season, and demand forecasts.
The measures under the Metropolitan Water Plan mean supplies are secure even if a drought twice as severe as the most recent one were to occur. With a city the size of Sydney, planning should avoid any potential for needing to implement severe drought response measures.
However, if drought conditions worsened significantly beyond those experienced recently, it is sensible to have measures available that could be implemented readily to reduce demand or increase supply in response, particularly in light of climate change.