Talking Water: The Past, the Present; and what Future?

Nov 23, 2021

Services: Talking Water - Kwatye Angkeme

Our final event – the COM­MU­NI­TY WATER FORUM – will be held 4PM, THURS­DAY 25 NOVEM­BER at the ANDY MCNEILL ROOM. It will run under the theme The Past, the Present; and what Future?’

Join us as we work togeth­er for a more secure water future!

More Info

What is Talk­ing Water?

Talk­ing Water is an intense, short cam­paign to kick­start a shared water sto­ry with­in the Alice Springs com­mu­ni­ty, and prompt aware­ness and longer-term engage­ment about our community’s water future.

Talk­ing Water is facil­i­tat­ed by the Desert Knowl­edge Research Insti­tute; work­ing with Alice Springs Town Coun­cil, the Arid Lands Envi­ron­ment Cen­tre, the Cen­tral Land Coun­cil, Lhere Arte­pe Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion, the NT Farm­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment, Pow­er and Water Cor­po­ra­tion, com­mit­ted indi­vid­u­als, and the peo­ple in the Alice Springs Water Con­trol District.

The Talk­ing Water Collective.

There are three key rea­sons dri­ving the campaign:

1. To gen­er­ate a com­mu­ni­ty sub­mis­sion for the NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan

The 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. The NT Gov­ern­ment is cur­rent­ly seek­ing com­mu­ni­ty input to ensure com­mu­ni­ty val­ues and aspi­ra­tions for water usage are embed­ded in the Territory’s upcom­ing Strate­gic Water Plan.

The Talk­ing Water cam­paign will cul­mi­nate in a com­mu­ni­ty sub­mis­sion that address­es the 10 direc­tions in the Government’s Strate­gic Water Plan. The sub­mis­sion will be under­pinned by top­ics and issues dis­cussed at its workshops.

2. To edu­cate the com­mu­ni­ty about Alice Springs’ water usage, and reduce water consumption

    Alice Springs uses more than twice the nation­al aver­age when it comes to water, despite only receiv­ing enough rain­fall to nat­u­ral­ly replen­ish a quar­ter of its water consumption.

    The Talk­ing Water cam­paign shares key facts about water usage in Alice Springs, includ­ing where our water comes from and lit­tle things we can do to save water. It’s impor­tant that every­one is aware of and involved in this because we use more than twice as much water as the nation­al aver­age, and 450% more than what is nat­u­ral­ly replen­ished by the envi­ron­ment each year!

    The town sees about two-thirds of its pop­u­la­tion turnover every five years [Alice Accord­ing to you, Novem­ber 2012] – this means two out of three peo­ple in the town right now might not know how their water use affects the Red Centre’s future, or even how much water they’re actu­al­ly using.

    With the cur­rent rates of con­sump­tion, cli­mate change, and a change in pop­u­la­tion, our town’s water sup­plies will be unvi­able by ear­ly/mid-2200s, only a few gen­er­a­tions away.

    3. To cre­ate the begin­nings of a shared water sto­ry, and a more secure water future for Alice Springs

    We’ve been work­ing togeth­er because we want to use this oppor­tu­ni­ty to kick­start an ongo­ing com­mit­ment to make a dif­fer­ence in how we as a com­mu­ni­ty think about and use water.

    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.

    To date, the cam­paign has seen great engage­ment at its launch at the Todd Mall Night Mar­kets, and it’s three com­mu­ni­ty work­shops: Water and Peo­ple (Coun­cil Lawns), Water and Econ­o­my (NT Cham­ber of Com­merce), and Water and Envi­ron­ment (East Side Com­mu­ni­ty Gar­den). A work­shop with a range of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple was also held at the Olive Pink Botan­ic Garden.

      Our final event – the COM­MU­NI­TY WATER FORUM – will bring it all togeth­er 4PM, THURS­DAY 25 NOVEM­BER at the ANDY MCNEILL ROOM. It will run under the theme The Past, the Present; and what Future?’

      Join us as we work togeth­er for a more secure water future!

      More Info

      What has the cam­paign learned so far?

      Quite a lot! Here are some of the highlights…

      • Some peo­ple know a lot about water; oth­ers not so much!
        > So, it’s impor­tant to get the facts out there, and make sure peo­ple under­stand them.

      • Most peo­ple don’t think a lot about water. But once they do stop, think, and know what’s what, they’re quite like­ly to get involved and play their part in a secure water future.
        > Rais­ing aware­ness about the issue and the impor­tance of water is the impor­tant first step.
        > There’s only so much social media can do – it’s impor­tant to get togeth­er and have a chat, like we did at the cam­paign launch at the Night Markets.

      • Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties depend­ing on what they val­ue most.
        > But so far, it would be fair to say that near­ly every­one val­ues and pri­ori­tis­es water for drink­ing’ and water sav­ing’ as a way of get­ting the best val­ue out of our water.
        Talk­ing Water work­shops to date have led to great com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment and insights.

        The Past: What was the water sit­u­a­tion in Alice Springs pri­or to Euro­pean settlement?

        The first peo­ples relied on water­holes and soaks that retained water long after the rains. They moved around a lot to ensure they did not strain or overuse the nat­ur­al resources of the land.

        Water­holes and soaks in and around Mparn­twe (Alice Springs) were, and still are, often sacred; part of sto­ries, tra­di­tions, cer­e­mo­ny and cul­ture of the local Arrernte people.

        Cour­tesy of the UTAS Library Spe­cial & Rare Col­lec­tions and the Olive Pink Estate.

        Since Euro­pean set­tle­ment, a lot of the cul­tur­al val­ues asso­ci­at­ed with water have been erod­ed. It’s com­mon for long-stand­ing water­holes to have been ruined by cat­tle or chocked by weeds. Ground­wa­ter-depen­dant ecosys­tems such as swamps are affect­ed by roads, drains, devel­op­ment. For exam­ple, the Coolibah Swamp (known as Ankerre Ankerre, a cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant site) on Undoolya Road is under real stress because of arti­fi­cial drainage and roadmaking.

        State Library of South Aus­tralia, [PRG 1365/1/154], [B 22629], [B‑20974]

        The Present: What’s the sit­u­a­tion today?

        Town water

        Alice Springs gets its drink­ing water from the Amadeus Basin, by Pow­er and Water Cor­po­ra­tion using bores (deep nar­row wells) at the Roe Creek Bore­field. This water is very old, esti­mat­ed to be from up to 35,000 years ago.

        Present rates of water con­sump­tion in Alice Springs.

        The decline in the Meree­nie Aquifer ground­wa­ter lev­els. [Cred­it: Pow­er and Water Corporation]

        The town’s water sup­ply replen­ish­es very slow­ly (2,000 mil­lion litres annu­al­ly) and isn’t equipped to sup­port our present rates of con­sump­tion (9,000 mil­lion litres annu­al­ly) indef­i­nite­ly. Because even if Alice Springs halves its water usage today to align with Australia’s nation­al aver­age, we will still be using dou­ble of what is being nat­u­ral­ly replenished.

        The water lev­els are drop­ping because we’re using about 4.5 times as much as is being replen­ished. The more it drops, the more pow­er is need­ed to pump it out, and one day it won’t be eco­nom­i­cal to extract it.

        Town Basin

        Water from the Todd Basin, which sits under the town and is replen­ished after a decent rain, is used for sport­ing facil­i­ties, includ­ing the Alice Springs Golf Club. This needs to be care­ful­ly man­aged to ensure it is not over-taxed, oth­er­wise our trees and envi­ron­ment will suffer. 

        Alice Springs surrounds

        Out­sta­tions that use bore water often have seri­ous prob­lems, includ­ing ele­vat­ed lev­els of nitrates and oth­er trace elements.

        Rur­al prop­er­ties also have issues. For exam­ple, prop­er­ties in White Gums rely on the Wan­ngar­di Basin. With no meter­ing on the bores, man­age­ment of that water resource is problematic.

        The Future: What will that look like at present rates of consumption?

        Cur­rent rates of con­sump­tion will lead to our town’s water sup­plies becom­ing unvi­able by ear­ly/mid-2200s.

        With per­pet­u­al­ly drop­ping water lev­els, we are look­ing towards a dry future.

        In fact, under present cir­cum­stances and rates of con­sump­tion, it’s esti­mat­ed that our town’s water sources would become unvi­able by ear­ly/mid-2200s. But cli­mate change and a rise in pop­u­la­tion means this is like­ly to hap­pen much soon­er – unless we do some­thing about it!

        The good news is that we know it can be done! The Alice Water Smart project, which ran between 2011 and 2013, iden­ti­fied 1,600 mil­lion litres in sav­ings (about 2 months of the town’s aver­age water sup­ply), and led to a 10 – 15% reduc­tion in water con­sump­tion. We need to come togeth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty and start a new water story!

        Does this mat­ter to me?

        Alice Springs enjoys the Todd Riv­er flowing.

        Yes, water mat­ters to all of us!

        Whether its safe drink­ing water, the envi­ron­ment (rivers, water­holes, plants), ani­mals, food pro­duc­tion, homes, gar­dens, lifestyle, the econ­o­my, busi­ness­es, cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance for Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and oth­er Cen­tralians… water affects every sin­gle one of us.

        The spec­tac­u­lar bush­land we see all around us will not sur­vive if the water table drops too low, out of reach from their roots.

        We have a duty to ensure respon­si­ble water usage for our­selves, the peo­ple around us, and the gen­er­a­tions to come. Because with­out water, we can’t live, work or play here!

        What can I do to save water?

        It’s easy! Back in 2011 – 2013, the Alice Water Smart project led to a 10 – 15% decrease in water use and this was down to sim­ple things like fix­ing leaks and being smart about water­ing the gar­den (60% of our town’s water use is out­side of the home in our back­yards and gar­dens). The com­mu­ni­ty came up with the top six actions for sav­ing water in Alice Springs, which are easy and just as rel­e­vant for today!

        1. Use effi­cient irri­ga­tion and adjust water timers seasonally
        2. Water between 8pm and 8am
        3. Set your water schedule
        4. Find hid­den leaks – con­duct the hid­den leak test
        5. Fix leaks quickly
        6. Learn and pass on your skills to be water smart

        View the Liv­ing Water Smart in Alice’ tips on how to save water and money.

        How can I con­tribute to Alice Springs’ water future?

        Learn about the water sit­u­a­tion, pledge to save water, share your knowl­edge with the peo­ple around you, and… join us at the final Talk­ing Water Com­mu­ni­ty Forum!

        Talk­ing Water thanks Alice Springs May­or Matt Pater­son and the Hon Chansey Paech, Mem­ber for Gwo­ja for spon­sor­ing the door prizes.

        THE FORUM

        • Come and learn more about why water real­ly matters.
        • Get the facts from the peo­ple, envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nom­ic perspectives.
        • Check out visu­als of what our water­holes and oth­er water-depen­dant places looked like in the past ver­sus what they look like now; and lend your voice and your think­ing to help cre­ate the future.
        • Get water wise – find out how to fit an aer­a­tor on your taps to save water. Plus grab your­self a free aer­a­tor from Pow­er and Water Corporation.
        • Check out and get expert expla­na­tion of satel­lite infrared imagery, which shows where water is retained, where green’ is and why that matters.
        • Get a han­dle on the 10 Direc­tions that are feed­ing into the Territory’s Strate­gic Water Plan.
        • Dive deep into your top inter­ests and have your say to help guide the future of water man­age­ment in the North­ern Territory.


        • 3x $100 vouch­ers to help you save on water and money.
        • Water-themed take­aways and good­ies from par­tic­i­pat­ing organisations.

        RSVP to the Com­mu­ni­ty Water Forum: The Past, the Present; and what Future?

        4pm-7pm, Thurs­day 25 Novem­ber at the Andy McNeill Room.

        More Info

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