Managing Drought in Urban Centers: Lessons from Australia

Joanne Chong, Heather Cooley, Mary Ann Dickinson, Andrea Turner, and Stuart White CONTENTS

Introduction to Australia's Millennium Drought

Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent. Many regions have highly variable climates and are prone to severe multiyear droughts. From around 1997 to 2012, however, Australia endured the "Millennium Drought," which affected a larger area of Australia, and in many locations it lasted far longer than any previous drought on record. Figure 16.1 illustrates the pattern of precipitation deficiency in Australia between November 2001 and October 2009. Falling reservoir levels and persistently low precipitation rates fueled concerns that major urban centers, including many capital cities, would face severe water shortages and, in some cases, concerns that they might run out of water.

Ultimately, because of a comprehensive drought response effort, Australian cities did not run out of water. This chapter draws on the experiences of a range of stakeholders including water utilities, government agencies, businesses, and communities across Australia to examine how this was achieved, as well as how these efforts could have been improved. In collaboration with the Alliance for Water Efficiency and the Pacific Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney examined how Australia's experiences could be applied to California during its most severe


Most Australian capital cities experienced significantly lower rainfall than average during the Millennium Drought. Rainfall deciles (AWA grids 1900-present). 1 November 2001 to 31 October 2009. Distribution based on gridded data. Map created, original source Australian Bureau of Meteorology (

drought on record (Turner et al. 2016). The lessons learned from Australia's millennium drought can also inform drought preparedness and response efforts in urban centers around the world.

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