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Fighting drought with innovation: Melbourne's response to the Millennium Drought in Southeast Australia

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The Millennium Drought in Southeast Australia forced greater Melbourne, a city of 4.3 million people, to find innovative ways of increasing water supply and decreasing water demand. This article explores how water managers in Melbourne reacted to the crisis and evaluates the short‐ and long‐term impacts of their decisions. Reduced water demand occurred primarily through residential and industrial water conservation programs, restrictions, together with emergency reductions in the environmental release of water to streams. The city also experimented with using recycled water, in place of surface water, to support agriculture in the Werribee Irrigation District. Water pricing was not strengthened during the drought, and thus not regarded as a drought demand management tool, primarily because Melbourne water companies lacked independent price‐setting powers. Today, five years after the end of the Millennium Drought, gains in water conservation appear to be holding steady, but recycled water for irrigation has declined for various reasons. We contend that the Millennium Drought provided Melbourne with the opportunity to develop and implement a more integrated approach to water management. Many of the innovations it forged (e.g., distributed harvesting and use of stormwater) will continue to enhance the city's resilience to drought and reduce its vulnerability to climate variability for years to come. Nevertheless, a challenge going forward is how to sustain these achievements in light of anticipated population growth and continued climatic change. This challenge—coupled with Melbourne's successes—hold important lessons for water‐stressed cities around the world. WIREs Water 2015, 2:315–328. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1087

Volume of supply augmentation by sector and source. Total rainwater use was estimated by assuming that the total residential water use was 68% of the estimated total rainwater use over the period of interest. Total residential rainwater use was estimated by multiplying the number of households in Melbourne by the portion of households with residential rainwater tanks in Victoria and rainwater use per raintank. Rainwater use per raintank was assumed to be 15.8% of household residential water use. ‘Recycled water: other’ includes industrial/commercial (including golf courses, sports fields, and gardens), and institutional (councils). ‘Rainwater: other’ includes schools, commercial, industrial, institutional (councils). Greywater residential only includes Inkerman Oasis. Data Sources: Recycled water data provided by South East Water, City West Water, Yarra Valley Water. Data for Inkerman Oasis provided by South East Water. Population and census data is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Data for portion of households with residential rainwater tanks is from ABS. Data for residential water use is from Melbourne Water and water retailers.
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Portion of households with rainwater tanks surveyed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
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Volume of recycled water used by sector (councils, industrial/commercial, residential, and agriculture) and selected agricultural schemes (Werribee Irrigation District, Eastern Irrigation Scheme, South East Outfall). Industrial/commercial includes golf courses, sports fields, and gardens. Urban recycled water use includes councils, industrial/commercial, and residential uses. Data Sources: Recycled water data provided by South East Water, City West Water, and Yarra Valley Water.
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A water budget for Melbourne. Changes to water associated with environmental flows (GL/y), municipal demand (GL/y), water usage (L/p/d), inflow (GL/y), and storage (percentage of total capacity as of June 30). Data sources: Volumetric flow data provided by Melbourne Water and population data from Australian Bureau of Statistics.
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