As recognised leaders in water and environmental consulting, MWH recently commissioned a piece of independent research of Australian households to explore attitudes and behaviours toward water. In particular, we explored whether the prolonged drought, and years of water restrictions, have had a lasting impact. Or, now that the drought is easing in many parts of the country, are we reverting to old habits? What are the drivers of household water usage? Will increasing the price of water motivate Australians to reduce their consumption? How important is water to the Australian psyche? And, importantly, how concerned are Australians about the impact of the projected population growth on our water supply?
Australians are gravely concerned about the nation's water supply in light of forecast population targets, and though they are committed to reducing household water usage, there is widespread preference for more infrastructure to satisfy growing demand.
According to the research, 91% of people are concerned that Australia's current water supply will not be able to support a significant population increase in the next five years.
When asked to choose between more infrastructure (such as dams or desalination plants) versus further water restrictions, 76% of Australians said they would prefer increased water infrastructure as opposed to 18% opting for a restricted water supply, to ensure water security for the future.
MWH's research showed Australians have a sense of national duty to conserve water, with 95% of respondents believing it is every Australian's responsibility to make good use of our water.
In addition, it appears water restrictions have altered behaviour, with four in five (82%) facing water restrictions agreeing they have fundamentally changed the way their household uses water. However, this may not last as 50% believe they would be less careful if water restrictions were lifted in their area.
The research challenged some of the stereotypes about attitudes to water conservation. For example, Baby Boomers care more about water conservation than younger generations. Even Gen Y, a generation often considered the most environmentally aware and active, appears the least water-saving savvy. Baby Boomers (81%) are also the biggest supporter of future infrastructure measures to ensure our water security (compared to 75% of Gen X and 67% of Gen Y).
Also key to the Australian psyche is the innate sense of duty to conserve water, according to 95% of Australians who believe it is every Australian's responsibility to make good use of our water. So much so, Australians have developed an emotional reaction to wasting water, 90% agree it just doesn't feel right to leave a tap running (like riding in a car without a seatbelt) and 81% feel guilty if they use water unwisely.
97% of Australians have fond childhood memories involving playing with tap water, whether under the sprinkler, with water pistols, water bombs or cooling off under a hose, and the vast majority (89%) believe it is important the next generation of Australian children are able to create their own memories playing with water.
From my perspective, it is encouraging to see such a strong sense of responsibility felt by Australians to look after our precious natural resource - something for policy makers, governments and councils to take heart in. However, there are also grave concerns for the future security of our water supply based on current water supply, existing infrastructure and projected population targets.
It would appear that while Australians are willing to continue to make an effort to conserve water, they would also like to see governments make sure that infrastructure is in place to ensure future water security.
We must also recognise that water is grossly undervalued in Australia. Unless the underlying issue is addressed, it will continue to prove difficult to invest adequately in our future water supply. Bottled water costs $2.50 each, yet tap water costs around $2 for 1,000 litres. We must strike a balance that ensures water is better valued into the future, while not placing too hard a burden on consumers.
Investment in long-term and sustainable water management infrastructure and water-usage legislation is a vital task for the nation. We need to make sure we are building a better world for the future.
The MWH Water Gauge 2010 was released in July 2010. If you would like to receive a full copy of the report, please email email@example.com.