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BALLARAT’S MESSY PATH TO A WATER SENSITIVE CITY  
A long term investigation of water management in a city
D Ebbs, P Dahlhaus , H Kandra
Publication Date (Web): 8 November 2017
DOI: https://doi.org/10.21139/wej.2017.037


Water security is a vital part of ensuring a sustainable future. This is particularly true for many cities in Australia where relatively low rainfall, population growth, increasing demand and climate change places communities under water stress. The ‘Water Sensitive City’ is one in which water is drawn from a range of water supplies and that sustainably interacts with its surrounding environment. A framework developed by Brown, Keath and Wong demonstrates the multiple stages of development through which many cities progress, with the Water Sensitive City being seen as a potential future state. However, every city has a unique water history in which the economic, environmental and social history have impacted on the development of water management. Tracking the evolution of water management of a city and its deviation from a standard pathway can provide information around what drives decisions about supply and demand.

Ballarat is a city that is faced with many of the issues confronted throughout the world – growing population, increasing water demand, climate change that will adversely impact supplies, and a reliance on supplies from outside the local water catchment. The water supply in Ballarat was established in the 1850s at a similar time to other Australian cities. Water management in Ballarat has been tracked from then until 2016 using historical records from the local water authority. These records show some key differences between Ballarat and the classical water development model. For example, the impact of flooding on the mining community, and sluice mining on the downstream waterway, made drainage a much higher priority in Ballarat than sewerage. This highlights that decisions are a function of the individual situation and circumstances in which a city resides. Of particular interest is that, despite a common understanding that demand increased throughout the 20th century until the impact of the Millennium Drought, the data shows water usage declined from a peak in 1980, well before climatic conditions and severe water restrictions were implemented. This was not due to a significant change in industrial use but was predominantly driven by a reduction in domestic water demand, and sewer flows indicate that from 1970 to 2010 there was a significant reduction in the percentage of water used outside the home.

Understanding the social, environmental and economic drivers of the sustained reduction in demand which Ballarat has experienced, over a longer period than was expected, may assist in future urban water management decisions. Alternatives to the traditional local surface water supplies have been established in Ballarat.  However, when these decisions were made, the comparative analysis which determined the best option was predominantly economic, although environmental hurdles were included earlier in the decision making. If the optimum water resource management decision is to be made, all factors which are considered important must be included in the comparative analysis. 

 

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