A campaign to address Alice Springs’ water future
Feb 18, 2022
A group of local organisations and independent parties have joined forces in Alice Springs, NT, with the support of the Northern Territory Government, to address the town’s water future. The Talking Water Collective delivered a short, intense campaign during October-November 2021 to prompt awareness and build stewardship around the town’s water security, sharing key facts about water resources and consumption, and contributing to the NT’s Strategic Water Plan.
The Talking Water – Kwatye Angkeme campaign launched on 21 October 2021, during National Water Week, and held a suite of community-focused workshops which looked at how water affects people, the economy, the environment, and its wider impact on the community. The workshops shared information on Alice Springs’ water resources, statistics on consumption, tips on how to save water, and prompted community input and reflection on the town’s water use. A Fact Sheet highlighting the current situation was developed by the Collective and shared at each event, underpinning community discussions.
Talking Water is led by the Desert Knowledge Research Institute, and includes Alice Springs Town Council, Arid Lands Environment Centre, Central Land Council, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation, Northern Territory Farmers Association, the Northern Territory Government, Power and Water Corporation, independent parties, and the people in the Alice Springs Water Control District.
There were three key objectives driving the campaign:
1. Generate a Community Submission for the NT’s Strategic Water Plan
The Talking Water campaign was sparked by the Northern Territory Government’s Directions Paper for the NT’s Strategic Water Plan, which will set the agenda on water management through to 2050 and address water security in the Territory.
Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson addresses the Community Water Forum, the main event which helped create the Community Submission for the NT’s Strategic Water Plan.
The campaign’s public events and consultations culminated in a Community Submission which addressed 10 proposed directions in the NT’s Strategic Water Plan.
“The NT’s Strategic Water Plan will set the agenda to 2050 to address all aspects of water security in the Territory. From ensuring effective governance, regulation and management of water, to certifying that drinking water is safe and reliable, and that water is used efficiently and sustainably to grow the economy and protect the environment. The plan will be based on evidence, good regulatory practice, and community values and aspirations for water. The Talking Water campaign’s Community Submission for Alice Springs will help craft the final strategy that will guide water decision-making over the coming years.”
- John Gaynor (Director of Regions, NT Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security)
2. Educate the community about Alice Springs’ water usage, and reduce water consumption
Despite having unfavourable environmental conditions for rain and natural replenishment of its water resources, Alice Springs uses more than twice as much water as the national average. [Source: Living Water Smart in Alice]
Through its public events, the campaign worked to build awareness about the town’s water security situation, including where its water comes from and simple steps residents can take to reduce water consumption.
Alice Springs gets its water from the Amadeus Basin, which holds water that’s estimated to be from up to 35,000 years ago. The Basin is slowly replenished at 2,000 gigalitres each year, but the Outback town consumes 9,000 gigalitres of water annually – this equates to a consumption rate of 450% higher than what is environmentally sustainable. And the present rates of consumption are predicted to only be viable for the next few generations, until early/mid-2200s.
“We recognise the importance of safeguarding water security in the Northern Territory and are continually planning for the future across the 92 locations where we provide customers with water. Power and Water is a long-time advocate of water conservation, and we promote demand management to preserve this precious resource through successful programs including Alice Water Smart and Living Water Smart.”
- Cail Rayment (Water Demand Coordinator, Power and Water Corporation)
3. Create the beginnings of a shared water story, and ongoing water stewardship
The Talking Water Collective began working together to create an ongoing commitment to water stewardship, and make a difference in how the community thinks about and uses water.
Alice Springs’ transient nature sees about two-thirds of its population turnover every five years. This means despite previous successful campaigns to reduce water consumption, two out of three people living here presently might not know how their water use affects the town’s future. Because of its rapid population turnover and high rates of water consumption, Alice Springs needs an ongoing collective effort to create a secure water future.
“As an organisation that has the wellbeing of desert people embedded in its values, the Desert Knowledge Research Institute was honoured to lead a campaign for the stewardship of a secure water future for Alice Springs. We enjoyed working with the members of the Talking Water Collective and, more importantly, people within the Alice Springs Water Control District. This is the start of a shared water story for a more secure water future for Alice Springs.”
— Dr Dan Tyson (Managing Director, Desert Knowledge Research Institute)
Talking Water Facilitator John Huigen discusses the impact of water on the economy during a workshop.
The campaign learned that water isn’t on most people’s minds, but once they are prompted to stop and think, they are quite likely to get involved and want to play a part in a secure water future. And despite some variations in personal values around water use, most people rank “safe drinking water” and “efficient use of water” as top priorities for getting the best value out of water.
Community engagement needs to continue for Alice Springs to have a secure water future, and the Talking Water Collective has already begun discussions around how to keep the conversation alive.