Friday, June 02, 2006

Crisis? What Water Crisis?

When I tell you that in Brisbane there is no water crisis, and not even a drought, you could be forgiven for checking my medication. But those who didn't come down in the last shower may recognise the debate being shaped, not so much by a conspiracy but, rather, a loose coalition of the well meaning, with opportunists, excuse makers, and outright departmental shonks. And as is often the case, the most important attributes of the truth, the hard numbers, didn’t even make it onto the interchange bench.

We have the Premier saying, "we're doing our best but I can't make it rain". Others advise that, "even 50 water tanks are no use if it doesn't rain" and before long the tightarses have run amok with mean spirited sanctions on the frail aged. And silly, costly and ineffective measures like mandatory pool blankets indicate that it is “pick on a minority time”. Soon even the most sensible start to wonder if the global warming Bunyip has teamed up with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

So let’s put this in perspective. My family of five’s annual household expenditure is about $40,000 of which $160 is the cost of water. It amounts to 0.4 of 1% or, dare I say it, two fifths of sweet FA. And that is the proportion of our thinking time that aught reasonably be allocated to the subject. Our problem is that the government owned supplier of this water is advising us that they are unable to deliver the desired product in the volumes required or at the times we require it. And as anyone from a business background will tell you, those that cannot deliver the goods often waste excessive amounts of your time with endless excuses as to why “their” crisis must also become “your” crisis.

Furthermore, this supplier has confirmed their intention to raise their prices for this product that they will deliver less of and with less reliability. So what would an even half competent manager do? He could check the alternative suppliers, or he could bring the function “in-house” and by-pass the incompetent, monopolistic middleman. He could invest in his own value chain, with a water tank or two.

The first thing to do is check the availability of the raw material. At the Bureau of Meteorology he would be surprised to learn that there is no shortage of this raw material. The rainfall data makes it clear that the past 12 months has been far from drought. From May 2005 to April 2006, Logan in the city south had 1,245 mm, 18% above the average 1,058mm. Strathpine in the north had 1,214mm.

So what have these people been going on about? They passed up an opportunity to diversify their catchments more than a decade ago and now want to pass on the higher costs to the customers. And their two largest storages have had a bad year. Wivenhoe had only 550mm in the past year against an average of 1,007mm. Interestingly, the alternative storage at Wolffdene, the right dam, in the right place, at the right time, but vetoed by Goss, had 1,127mm. Clearly, there is a crisis of management competence, not a water crisis.

Councils cannot stop you using other sources but you must remain connected and pay the fixed annual fee of $110. This allows you to use as much water as you can collect in your own tank and only take their water as a last resort. If you are not connected you would have to cover any shortfall by trucking in water at 10 times the cost as some acreage dwellers and farmers sometimes do already.

And never mind the “health concerns”. More than 15 % of Australian households already use tank water, including 37% in Adelaide, and there appears to be no variation between the two in the incidence of water borne ailments. It is a remarkably convenient urban myth that furthers the interests of the public sector water mafia. You are more likely to get sick from your refrigerator, but if managing a fridge is beyond you then, by all means, don’t get a water tank.

A water tank allows you the sweetest pleasure of having as little as possible to do with a whole cohort of bozos who want to share their problem with anyone gullible enough to put up with it.

You’ll save money and make a profitable investment in your own home.


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