I don’t know about you, but the Cape Town water crisis got my attention. When I hypothetically placed myself in the shoes of a Cape Town resident, and thought about having no water run through my taps… I got worried. And then I wrote my post, which received many comments. One comment in particular from David grabbed my attention because he was able to explain how Brisbane was in a better position after our drought from over 10 years ago. I reached out to Seqwater, who were able to send some valuable information and insight about the Cape Town Water Crisis and how Brisbane is better equipped to survive a similar crisis. Before I share the initiatives and projects that have been put in place in South East Queensland, it’s important to understand the background to Cape Town’s situation.
What has led to the Cape Town Water Crisis?
Seqwater explains, “Cape Town has been experiencing drought since 2015. The city is supplied largely from six major dams in areas around the city. Despite water saving measures, dam levels are predicted to decline to critically low levels, and the city has made plans for ‘Day Zero’, the day when municipal water supply will be shut off.”
Day Zero has now been pushed forward to mid-May, with residents and visitors required to use less than 50 litres of water a day. This is less than a third of the water South East Queenslanders use per day. Providing Cape Town residents comply with these water restrictions, Day Zero will be pushed back to June 4th.
Could the Cape Town Water Crisis happen in Brisbane?
Seqwater advises we already have experienced a similar water crisis scenario during the Millennium Drought.
“During the worst period of the drought, Lake Wivenhoe, our largest water storage, was down to 15%. Right now, Cape Town’s largest water storage is at 13% capacity,” states Seqwater spokesperson, Mike Foster.
“Cape Town never thought that they would experience more than two failed wet seasons in a row, and now they have experienced three failed wet seasons. South East Queenslanders never thought we would experience two failed wet seasons in a row as well, and then we went through the Millennium Drought and experienced nearly a decade of failed wet seasons.”
The Millennium Drought prompted upgrades to the region’s bulk water supply system, which were put in place during the drought. There have also been other initiatives put in place to provide South East Queensland greater water security, should we find ourselves in a similar drought situation again.
Seqwater advises, “If South East Queensland was to experience the same scenario as Millennium Drought again, with our current water supply system, we would be able to maintain water supply to the region while only needing to introduce medium level restrictions. With our current bulk water supply system our key storages would not reach the same critically low levels as they did.”
But just because we have the systems in place, doesn’t mean we become complacent with our water usage or hope that our existing systems will safeguard us for another drought. No one can predict how long a drought will last. Seqwater is already planning for a worse drought than the Millennium Drought.
Presently, South East Queensland is better equipped to withstand Cape Town’s current drought level.
Seqwater’s Plans for the Future
After the lessons of the Millennium Drought, Seqwater have a Water Security Plan which is a 30 year plan for “providing safe, secure and cost-effective drinking water for South East Queensland and includes a drought response plan.”
When our key bulk water storages reach certain levels, these will indicate the preparation for a drought.
As explained by Seqwater, “This plan allows Seqwater to pre-emptively strike and respond to the possibility of drought, by changing the way we operate our system, mobilizing climate-resilient assets, and implementing water restrictions.”
What South East Queensland learned during the Millennium Drought is that you cannot rely on rain for water supply. This realisation prompted the construction of the SEQ Water Grid – a 600 kilometre reverse flow pipeline network that allows Seqwater to move treated drinking water around the region.
In South East Queensland, we live in a climate of extremes and need to be ready to adjust our water use when conditions change.
The key to ensuring water security in South East Queensland is to have climate-resilient assets that can be used to respond when droughts show up, like the one currently being experienced in Cape Town.
Our assets were drawn upon last year, when Sunshine Coast’s drinking water supply was supplemented from the Water Grid as they experienced an extended dry spell.
The construction of the SEQ Water Grid has placed Brisbane in a better position to respond to drought. We also have the Gold Coast Desalination Plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme, which are climate-resilient and can be used to manage drought, should it ever arrive again.
Our individual water usage still plays a part in ensuring there are water supplies now and in the future. It’s important to understand that the Seqwater’s plans combined with our individual response, can work hand-in-hand to ensure we are well equipped should we find ourselves in a drought situation in the future.
Things You Can Do
Look at your recent bill from Queensland Urban Utilities, and look at how much water is used per person in your household. Consider ways you can bring that total down.
Learn from the past and incorporate some of the water saving habits that were introduced during the Millennium Drought.
If you’re looking for simple, DIY ways to save water around the home, check out this post.
For 30 ways to save water both in and outside your home, check out this post.
Thank you Seqwater for your response.