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!
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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!
- Use efficient irrigation and adjust water timers seasonally
- Water between 8pm and 8am
- Set your water schedule
- Find hidden leaks – conduct the hidden leak test
- Fix leaks quickly
- Learn and pass on your skills to be water smart
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.
- 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.
DOOR PRIZES AND TAKEAWAYS
- 3x $100 vouchers to help you save on water and money.
- Water-themed takeaways and goodies from participating organisations.