The gentle sounds of rain on the roof have been music to the ears of many locals this week.
The light but regular showers have provided a desperately needed boost to the region’s water supply and to our parched land and all its inhabitants.
But a sizeable body of climate research indicates that such steady rains are less frequent than they used to be, and are likely to become even scarcer as time goes on.
Numerous solutions are being tossed around, from generating new water sources through desalination plants, to simply limiting supply so that people are forced to use less.
Others are calling for an entirely new approach to water use that is adapted to the new reality.
‘In Australia we’ve tended to get caught in the silver bullet cycle of trying to find a particular technological solution,’ says Associate Professor Peter Coombes, the Chair of Engineering at Southern Cross University.
‘But we’ve always needed is a mix of measures that we use all the time, not just when we’re almost out of water.’
Associate Professor Coombes believes Australia, including the Northern Rivers, could be reusing far more wastewater and storm water than it does currently.
He believes the changing climate will also require a different approach to harvesting drinking water.
‘If it’s going to be hotter and drier, you’re going to get less run-off from the catchment because the soil will absorb more water each time it rains,’ he says.
‘So you need to look more closely at capturing run-off from roofs. That might require changing the typical design of our built environment and changing the classic model of having one central source of drinking water for a town, city or region.
He also argues that there needs to be a profound shift in the culture of water use, not just an attempt to dramatically reduce water consumption through restrictions during periods of drought.
‘We need to be saving water through the good times and the tough times,’ he says.
‘It’s tempting to think that you can just build bigger storage areas, but the reality is that rivers and other catchments can only provide so much water.’
A better understanding of ground water resources was also needed.
‘There’s a lot we don’t know about ground water in this region,
‘In particular, we don’t know how the hotter, drier climate will affect these resources.
‘We also need to explore leaks in our systems, particularly in small towns where up to 20 per cent of water can be lost on the wat to its destination.’
Meanwhile, Byron Council is stepping up its water use education campaign in Mullumbimby, where water has remained at unsustainable levels despite the introduction of level 4 water restrictions.
Unlike the rest of the Byron Shire which sources its water from Rous County Council, Mullum sources its water from Laverty’s Gap – a small weir in Wilson’s Creek which requires regular rain.
The spokesperson said preparations were underway for a letterbox drop to Mullumbimby residents reminding them about the level 4 restrictions and what they mean, as well as tips on how to save water.
‘Staff will also be attending the markets at Mullumbimby and manning a stall in town to talk to people about the water situation and answer questions,’ the spokesperson said.
She said staff were also in the process of identifying some of Mullumbimby’s highest water users as well as businesses and residences in Mullumbimby where leaks may be occurring.
‘Council is hoping to work with those individuals and groups to help them reduce their water use,’ the spokesperson said.
There were no plans to increase the policing of water restrictions, through regular ‘water patrols’.