Nearly every Australian city will have to find new water supplies over the next decade as climate change and population growth stretch the nation's already limited water resources, according to a study released yesterday.
The annual report by the Water Services Association of Australia found that after a decade of punishing drought, authorities in all of Australia's mainland capital cities will need to find new ways to provide water for residents, such as desalination and recycling, in the next five to 10 years. Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania, is the exception and is expected to have sufficient water.
The association's chief executive, Ross Young, said the new infrastructure could cost up to A$30 billion (US$25 billion) over the next decade, which would likely be paid for by higher charges to consumers.
"The 10 years of below average rainfall and drought have been a wake-up call for urban Australia," Young said. "This will send a stronger price signal to consumers about conserving what is a very scarce resource."
In its report to urban water utilities, the association said water prices will rise steadily in cities to pay for new infrastructure in the driest continent in the world after Antarctica.
"Climate change, which is reducing inflows into storages, and rapid population growth present significant challenges to the Australian urban water industry," the report said.
"Experience over the last several summers indicates that ongoing harsh water restrictions will not be accepted by the community and the challenge is to develop reliable supplies of water for our growing cities in a sustainable manner," it added.
The report found that in the fiscal year that ended in June, rainfall in catchments serving towns and cities fell by as much as 80 percent below average.
The west coast city of Perth has become the first in Australia to build a large-scale desalination plant while recycled water will be piped into homes in the east coast city of Brisbane next year.