A campaign to address Alice Springs’ water future

Feb 18, 2022

Services: Desert Knowledge Research Institute

A group of local organ­i­sa­tions and inde­pen­dent par­ties have joined forces in Alice Springs, NT, with the sup­port of the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment, to address the town’s water future. The Talk­ing Water Col­lec­tive deliv­ered a short, intense cam­paign dur­ing Octo­ber-Novem­ber 2021 to prompt aware­ness and build stew­ard­ship around the town’s water secu­ri­ty, shar­ing key facts about water resources and con­sump­tion, and con­tribut­ing to the NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan.

The Talk­ing Water Collective.

The Talk­ing Water – Kwatye Angkeme cam­paign launched on 21 Octo­ber 2021, dur­ing Nation­al Water Week, and held a suite of com­mu­ni­ty-focused work­shops which looked at how water affects peo­ple, the econ­o­my, the envi­ron­ment, and its wider impact on the com­mu­ni­ty. The work­shops shared infor­ma­tion on Alice Springs’ water resources, sta­tis­tics on con­sump­tion, tips on how to save water, and prompt­ed com­mu­ni­ty input and reflec­tion on the town’s water use. A Fact Sheet high­light­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion was devel­oped by the Col­lec­tive and shared at each event, under­pin­ning com­mu­ni­ty discussions.

Talk­ing Water is led by the Desert Knowl­edge Research Insti­tute, and includes Alice Springs Town Coun­cil, Arid Lands Envi­ron­ment Cen­tre, Cen­tral Land Coun­cil, Lhere Arte­pe Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion, North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Farm­ers Asso­ci­a­tion, the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment, Pow­er and Water Cor­po­ra­tion, inde­pen­dent par­ties, and the peo­ple in the Alice Springs Water Con­trol District.

There were three key objec­tives dri­ving the campaign:

1. Gen­er­ate a Com­mu­ni­ty Sub­mis­sion for the NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan

The Talk­ing Water cam­paign was sparked by the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Government’s Direc­tions Paper for the NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan, which will set the agen­da on water man­age­ment through to 2050 and address water secu­ri­ty in the Territory.

Alice Springs May­or Matt Pater­son address­es the Com­mu­ni­ty Water Forum, the main event which helped cre­ate the Com­mu­ni­ty Sub­mis­sion for the NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan.

The campaign’s pub­lic events and con­sul­ta­tions cul­mi­nat­ed in a Com­mu­ni­ty Sub­mis­sion which addressed 10 pro­posed direc­tions in the NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan.

The NT’s Strate­gic Water Plan will set the agen­da to 2050 to address all aspects of water secu­ri­ty in the Ter­ri­to­ry. From ensur­ing effec­tive gov­er­nance, reg­u­la­tion and man­age­ment of water, to cer­ti­fy­ing that drink­ing water is safe and reli­able, and that water is used effi­cient­ly and sus­tain­ably to grow the econ­o­my and pro­tect the envi­ron­ment. The plan will be based on evi­dence, good reg­u­la­to­ry prac­tice, and com­mu­ni­ty val­ues and aspi­ra­tions for water. The Talk­ing Water campaign’s Com­mu­ni­ty Sub­mis­sion for Alice Springs will help craft the final strat­e­gy that will guide water deci­sion-mak­ing over the com­ing years.”

- John Gaynor (Direc­tor of Regions, NT Depart­ment of Envi­ron­ment, Parks and Water Security)

2. Edu­cate the com­mu­ni­ty about Alice Springs’ water usage, and reduce water consumption

Despite hav­ing unfavourable envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions for rain and nat­ur­al replen­ish­ment of its water resources, Alice Springs uses more than twice as much water as the nation­al aver­age. [Source: Liv­ing Water Smart in Alice]

Through its pub­lic events, the cam­paign worked to build aware­ness about the town’s water secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion, includ­ing where its water comes from and sim­ple steps res­i­dents can take to reduce water consumption.

Alice Springs gets its water from the Amadeus Basin, which holds water that’s esti­mat­ed to be from up to 35,000 years ago. The Basin is slow­ly replen­ished at 2,000 gigal­itres each year, but the Out­back town con­sumes 9,000 gigal­itres of water annu­al­ly – this equates to a con­sump­tion rate of 450% high­er than what is envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able. And the present rates of con­sump­tion are pre­dict­ed to only be viable for the next few gen­er­a­tions, until ear­ly/mid-2200s.

We recog­nise the impor­tance of safe­guard­ing water secu­ri­ty in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry and are con­tin­u­al­ly plan­ning for the future across the 92 loca­tions where we pro­vide cus­tomers with water. Pow­er and Water is a long-time advo­cate of water con­ser­va­tion, and we pro­mote demand man­age­ment to pre­serve this pre­cious resource through suc­cess­ful pro­grams includ­ing Alice Water Smart and Liv­ing Water Smart.”

- Cail Ray­ment (Water Demand Coor­di­na­tor, Pow­er and Water Corporation)

3. Cre­ate the begin­nings of a shared water sto­ry, and ongo­ing water stewardship

The Talk­ing Water Col­lec­tive began work­ing togeth­er to cre­ate an ongo­ing com­mit­ment to water stew­ard­ship, and make a dif­fer­ence in how the com­mu­ni­ty thinks about and uses water.

Alice Springs’ tran­sient nature sees about two-thirds of its pop­u­la­tion turnover every five years. This means despite pre­vi­ous suc­cess­ful cam­paigns to reduce water con­sump­tion, two out of three peo­ple liv­ing here present­ly might not know how their water use affects the town’s future. Because of its rapid pop­u­la­tion turnover and high rates of water con­sump­tion, Alice Springs needs an ongo­ing col­lec­tive effort to cre­ate a secure water future.

As an organ­i­sa­tion that has the well­be­ing of desert peo­ple embed­ded in its val­ues, the Desert Knowl­edge Research Insti­tute was hon­oured to lead a cam­paign for the stew­ard­ship of a secure water future for Alice Springs. We enjoyed work­ing with the mem­bers of the Talk­ing Water Col­lec­tive and, more impor­tant­ly, peo­ple with­in the Alice Springs Water Con­trol Dis­trict. This is the start of a shared water sto­ry for a more secure water future for Alice Springs.”

 — Dr Dan Tyson (Man­ag­ing Direc­tor, Desert Knowl­edge Research Institute)
Magnify Talking water Facilitator

Talk­ing Water Facil­i­ta­tor John Huigen dis­cuss­es the impact of water on the econ­o­my dur­ing a workshop.

The cam­paign learned that water isn’t on most people’s minds, but once they are prompt­ed to stop and think, they are quite like­ly to get involved and want to play a part in a secure water future. And despite some vari­a­tions in per­son­al val­ues around water use, most peo­ple rank safe drink­ing water” and effi­cient use of water” as top pri­or­i­ties for get­ting the best val­ue out of water.

Com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment needs to con­tin­ue for Alice Springs to have a secure water future, and the Talk­ing Water Col­lec­tive has already begun dis­cus­sions around how to keep the con­ver­sa­tion alive.

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