Winter and water

Winter has arrived. The heating’s back in use, and I’ve started wearing jackets to work again, after some time of managing to avoid it. (Normally if the forecast high is at 20 degrees or higher, it’s not worth taking a jacket, since I only end up sweating on the walk from the station, and at work it’s usually warm.)

If we weren’t in times of drought, people would be bitching about the rain, but instead they’re welcoming getting drenched on the way to work. “Oh yes, well, we really need it, don’t we.” It reminds me of the memo from The Games from Sydney 2000:

If it rains during the period of September 15 to October 1, say: “Goodness me. How tremendous. A benediction for Australia’s rich farmlands”. If it hails, go inside or you might get killed.

One can only hope that some of it is falling in the catchments. I know my garden is getting a fair bit, since after many months of the back garden grass gradually withering and dying, it’s sprung back, to the point where I’ve had to mow it twice in the last few weeks. (Andy comes sometimes to mow, but his time is better spent on keeping the hedges under control.)

Recent calls (in Queensland) for people to aim for 140 litres of water per person per day seem like a good idea to me. The Melbourne average is 162.6 litres, so evidently we can do better — though arguably better savings can be had in industry and agriculture.

By my calculations, the water consumption in our household is 133 litres per person per day (up slightly from the figure in 2006, which was 129 litres). I’m not yet rigidly watching the clock during showers, and I haven’t yet fitted the water-saving shower head (it arrives soon, part of the Origin Energy green power deal), so I know we can do better.

What I have done is stopped buying Australian-made rice. Rice (and some other foods) use enormous amounts of water to grow, so I figure we’re all better off buying our rice from elsewhere. There’s plenty grown in Southeast-Asia, where (hopefully) they have plenty of rain.

And yesterday’s article in The Age comparing water consumption for different foods was interesting too. Tea-drinkers may be amused to know that at 25 litres for a cuppa, we’re using less water than the 140 litres required to produce a cup of coffee.

Perhaps we should all just drink plain water. After all, it only takes a litre of water to make a litre of water.

Despite countries like China consuming a lot of rice, they’re still below western countries in water consumption, because of the huge amounts required for livestock.

All up, it takes almost 16,000 litres of water to produce a single kilogram of beef.

Almost enough to make one switch to vegetarianism.

In total, China uses around 702,000 litres per person per year; Australia is at 1,393,000 litres. Canada is 50% higher again, and the USA is almost double.

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17 Replies to “Winter and water”

  1. Went to Bunnings recently and bought a 3 star (highest rating) shower head for $19.95.
    I thought I’d get speared by needles of water everytime I shower, but no, you do use less water and still enjoy the shower – albeit short.
    let us know how your shower head operates once it arrives.

  2. Why are we expected to take these reports seriously – the ones that agonise over 16,000 litres of water being ‘taken’ to grow 1 kilogram of beef?

    Obviously a kilogram of anything can contain no more than a litre of water. So the water ‘taken’ to grow the beef is going somewhere after that use. Most of it’s going into the ground, where it continues to grow grass and seep into the groundwater system. Some evaporates and falls again as rain to be ‘taken’ again. Some runs off and joins other water (that has also been ‘taken’ previously) in a farmer’s dam and is then ‘taken’ again.

    Some of the water ‘taken’ by growing beef would be ‘taken’ again elsewhere by farmers growing vegetables. Hardly any of it is even ‘drinking’ water. It’s just water from irrigation systems and farm dams. In fact, probably the only ‘drinking’ water used in this whole process was the stuff used to make the newsprint on which the idiotic newspaper article was printed.

  3. I stopped buying Australian rice years ago. It just makes no sense to me to grow rice in such a dry country. Let us know how the shower head goes.

  4. Agree with comment #2. What an utterly pointless, exaggerated and erroneous article in The Age. Worse still, people take this crap seriously.

  5. If the portly citizens of the U.S are really the disproportionately large consumers of everything they are held to be, can we not just cut to the chase and make cutlets of them? Render them down for biodiesel and snack on what’s left…Bags getting George’s braaaaain….You KNOW it going to be tender, just sitting there all idle and soft..

  6. I’m in two minds about rice.

    On one view, it’s something that Australia has absolutely no business growing.

    On the other, it’s a flood crop. Rice growers are amongst the first water users to lose their allocation in dry years.

    And there’s the ‘food miles’ and associated carbon from shipping it here from wherever it’s grown.

    On balance – I buy my rice from SE Asia too. I haven’t been a fan of ‘Buy Australian’ campaigns for a few years anyway.

  7. I started my first blog a month ago and am SO impressed by yours. You’ve inspired me to stop buying Australian rice now too. I’m trying to do one personal and one political action a day and as soon as 365 people subscribe, committed to the idea of action on global warming, we will have, symbolically at least, the action of A Year In A Day … I’m trying to show that once you set targets you’re more likely to get action and that “we, the people” want to move on global warming much, much more quickly – in fact, at the rate of a year in a day, at least. You are now going on my blogroll … thanks so much for all your work

  8. Here is a link to another study, a little older but more applicable since it was done by the CSIRO, a study in Australia.

    http://www.clw.csiro.au/issues/water/water_for_food.html

    So, My question is, will you now be not eating Austarlian Meat, or having any Australian Soy product aswell? Australian Farmers in the irrigated areas, only use the water they are allocated to use, this is linked with their farm. Otherwise they have to purchase the water themselves. Water is a comodity to a farmer. I come from a farm and find it hard to listen to people say they won’t do this and they won’t buy that when 99% of the situation is ignorance.

    I’m not saying you are, But my parents lost around 75% of what small amount of water they had left to the government this year. That water was going to be their only income for the year. Taken and given to towns people.

    I’m pretty sure no-one would like the government to step in and take 75% of your pay before tax.

  9. Gawd… sometimes there is serious overkill in “statistics” of whatever we’re using. I saw that article in the paper and rolled my eyes. So what now? Are we supposed to sit here and starve because whatever we eat supposedly takes 200 litres of water to make it?(Though how vegetables could be made with 200 litres of water is beyond me unless that’s just counting the irrigation and seriously, how are we supposed to have veggies without water?) Shyeah. Almost 100% of the food I buy in the shops isn’t Australian but hey, I shouldn’t be doing that either because OH MY GOD, they’re using MILLIONS OF GALLONS OF FUEL to ship it here!

    Where’s the line?

    As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing my bit. I’ve never watered the garden in the six years I’ve been living in this house and props to my grandad who planted the place out – it’s THRIVING. It saves me having to do the Bucket Shuffle too.

  10. Interesting link Matt, thanks. (Even if you wanted to, can you actually buy non-Australian-made meat in Australia? I don’t remember ever seeing any.)

  11. The question is not are you going to stop buying Australian meat, it was to point out the fact that meat use’s more water than rice, and if you are not buying rice for this point then you should stop buying meat and other things as well. It is only because rice is grown in an anaerobic environment and therefore needs to be covered in water that people have an issue with it, simply because they can see it.

    If you want agriculuture to save water it is not the farmers that need to act, it is the governments that need to (1) allow the federal government to take over control of the Murray Darling Irrigation system. (2) fix the irrigation system as millions of litres of water are lost to leaks a year.

  12. So you, a worker in a tertiary industry, are suggesting that a country (ours) with an already seriously eroded industrial base (secondary industry) should, in the interest of saving water, remove primary industry from its economy as well?

    Wouldn’t this eventually lead to a situation where all tertiary industry in the country would be rendered unnecessary, thereby making *any* future employment in *any* industry for today’s generation of children more or less impossible?

    Just a thought.

  13. Noel, that’s not what I said. I just don’t see why we should be growing crops that are very water-intensive, such as rice.

    Steven, yeah that’s why I rarely buy water in a bottle.

  14. Daniel – fair comment – I was seriously over simplifying. But, if we give up producing one crop because it uses a lot of water (in the case of rice, it’s “standing water” isn’t it?) why not others? That CSIRO study puts the kibosh on the wool industry well and truly!

    The problem is – as “Ren” said – where do we draw the line?

    The various articles seem to suggest we shouldn’t be growing beef either, among other things. Well, I’ve believed for a long time that the damage done to our ecology by the introduced meat animals is so severe that we should get rid of them all and farm kangaroos and emus for food (with the possible addition of a couple of large reptile species). (The Americans would cut us out of their will entirely, but so what?) Maybe we wouldn’t need to get rid of chooks. But how much water does/would it “take” to turn even those native beasts into foodstuff? Would we be any better off as far as water consumption is concerned than with cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, etc?

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