Conclusions and Applications Beyond Australia
Several lessons can be drawn from Australia's Millennium Drought that can inform drought preparedness and response efforts in urban centers around the world. First, a fundamental conclusion is that responding to drought requires the implementation of both supply- and demand-side options. There is significant industry knowledge in Australia and elsewhere on how to evaluate the full range of costs and benefits of water security options, and how to design and implement portfolios using a real-options, readiness approach. However, in Australia as elsewhere, the existing regulatory and institutional settings can often be biased toward supply-side investments. Shifting policy goals toward water services and resilience can require a complex and lengthy process of reform, but this shift is essential for developing more sustainable water systems.
Second, a considerable number of low-cost options for reducing water demand in urban areas exist without affecting the services and benefits that water provides. Worldwide, and in different institutional settings, there is a wealth of expertise on implementing demand management programs before drought. These long-term measures increase resilience during drought by slowing down the rate of depletion of available water resources. Evidence from Australia and elsewhere indicates there is often significant potential for savings inside and outside homes (Chong and White 2016,
2017b; Turner et al. 2016), as well as in commercial, industrial, and institutional settings. For example, a recent study by Heberger et al. (2014) found that repairing leaks, installing the most efficient appliances and fixtures, and replacing lawns and other water-intensive landscaping with plants requiring less water could reduce urban water use in California by 30 to 60 percent, saving 3.6 to 6.4 cubic kilometers per year. Designing and implementing such water efficiency programs relies on good data and robust monitoring and evaluation, critical for estimating the potential water savings.
Third, an effective supply-side strategy should integrate modular, scalable, diverse, and innovative technology options. Although advances have been made in seasonal forecasting, the length and severity of the droughts we will experience in the future are uncertain. A rapid and progressive approach to developing supply infrastructure, and especially contract design, can avoid commitments to unnecessary, costly expenditures.
Fourth, communication and transparency are paramount to garnering public support and participation in responding to drought. Collaborating with and involving the community builds consumer confidence, trust, and the energy to act. Additionally, collaboration will help to develop leaders within industry and the community, and they will in turn promote water savings. Ultimately, however, if the public is to trust the decisions of governments and utilities, then community voices and values must be integrated into planning processes, and the resulting plans, which are essentially developed under a social contract between governments, utilities, industries, and residents, must be implemented.