Australia's water crisis
Drought affected cattle, New South Wales.
In recent years, unusually high temperatures and low rainfall has hit large areas of New South Wales. Drought conditions have forced cattle farmers to buy in truckloads of water, reduce the size of their herds, or simply sell up.
An abandoned car on a cattle farm, New South Wales.
New South Wales suffered badly during the Millennium Drought that lasted from 1996 to 2010. In 2019, average rainfall in the state has fallen 40% below the mean, bringing fresh worries for farmers.
Drought affected farmland near Murrurundi, New South Wales.
Although most farmers are determined to see the drought through, the financial pressures are taking a toll. The cost of buying in water and feed for sheep and cattle is pushing some farms into debt despite government support.
A water feature in Darling Harbour, Sydney.
With Sydney’s dams dropping to barely 50% capacity, its desalination plant has maintained a steady supply of drinking water to the city. Even so, in June Sydney imposed its first water restrictions for a decade.
Dried mud scars the retreating waterline at the Murrurundi Dam, New South Wales.
In 2018, the town of Murrurundi received just 500mm of rainfall, around half of its historic levels. As the town’s dam dried up, Australia’s tightest Level 6 water restrictions were imposed. They remain in place over a year later.
A footbridge spans the dried-up Pages River, Murrurundi, New South Wales.
The Pages River, that supplies water to Murrurundi, ran dry in 2018. It is estimated that over the next ten years river flows across Australia could drop by 10-25%, increasing pressure on the country’s water systems.
An exposed water marker at the Murrurundi Dam, New South Wales.
Murrurundi’s river-fed dam normally supplies water to the town’s 1,000 residents. When the water level dropped below 5% usable capacity, the town was forced to rely on an emergency bore and water trucked in from 40km away.
Carted water helps refill the Murrurundi Dam, New South Wales.
Mathew Byrne, who operates a contract water truck, tops up a lagoon at the Murrurundi Dam. In June 2019, the local council was trucking in 3-4 loads of water a day at around $1,000 a day.
Water indicators for the Pages River, Murrurundi, New South Wales.
Before the Pages River ran dry, many residents would pump water directly from it to use in homes and gardens. Today, the sunbaked river bed is a haunting daily reminder of how important it is to conserve water.
Loading without pre-rinsing, Blacktown, Sydney
With Sydney residents experiencing water restrictions it’s become clear that everyone must do what they can to save water. A dishwasher uses just 10% of the water spent handwashing dishes—not pre-rinsing saves around 40 liters a load.