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on that water market. The government intervened

by buying back some of the permits to ensure

that water supplies remained adequate and

also by making the strict rules for trading more

flexible and efficient. That gave a boost to the

trade which, in turn, was good for the economy:

it continued to flourish despite the drought. As a

result, we can still afford structural solutions such

as investments in infrastructure, better planning

for water consumption and a sound forecasting

system for the Bureau of Meteorology.’

To what extent is water in Australia still

a political challenge?

‘Much less so than in the past. We were used

to sorting out problems like this regionally and

so when Prime Minister John Howard set aside

10 billion dollars in 2007 in order to make

nationwide top-down interventions possible,

there was a lot of very heated debate. These

days, tackling issues together has become

second nature. Of course, there are always

discussions about costs. It is our job to use

sound science and reliable numbers to show

that investments of this kind really do pay.’

Why did you need outside help?

‘From a scientific point of view, that’s a good

story. When it finally rained again after ten years,

our computer systems literally couldn’t manage

the floods any more. We were used to two floods

a year lasting two months and now we had a

flood covering more or less the entire continent

for nine months. The Netherlands, including

Deltares, came in to help: they have systems

that can manage these enormous quantities of

water and the associated data flows.’

What is the strength of an institute like

the Bureau of Meteorology?

‘Our ability to compare solutions independently.

It really is unbelievable how many conflicting

interests and possible solutions a regional water

manager has to cope with. We can help. Recently,

there was a discussion about bringing excess

water from the north of Australia to the south as

an alternative to expensive freshwater plants. The

public perception was that water would flow to the

south on its own. In reality, of course, the water

has to be pumped and that costs more money

than making fresh drinking water from seawater.’

Don’t you get pushed into the role of

preaching a message all the time?

‘I’m not really the preaching type, and I don’t think

that is my role either. That’s the politicians’ job,

and we supply them with the right numbers. I

don’t see that as preaching; it’s more a question

of helping people to make the right decisions.’

And has the general public’s behaviour


‘Domestic water consumption has fallen

dramatically. People find it normal now to buy

an economical dishwasher, to sweep the streets

rather than hose them down, and to clean the

car in the garden so that the lawn is watered

at the same time. What can be difficult is the

general public’s very short memory. One of our

major challenges continues to be keeping people

properly informed about how the water system

works. Almost half our population didn’t know

what the words





That is always a challenge for us.’

What can the world learn from your


‘Nobody doubts that the challenges facing us this

century will be the climate, and water and food

safety. And that means, above all, the devilish

combination of the three. The good news is that

enormous progress has been made in water

technology. Solving the problems begins with

sound research and a reliable government that

safeguards access to water and food. Australia

has acquired a great deal of experience about how

to encourage sound collaboration in that area.’