A study by Australian Water says Australia is over-supplied with water and needs to get more, and is asking the federal government to introduce a scheme to boost supplies.
The study, commissioned by the Australian Water Council, argues Australia needs to invest in water systems to cope with the expected shortage of water.
Water is a major driver of Australia’s GDP, but it is also the nation’s most expensive resource, costing $US2.2 trillion ($3.3 trillion) a year, and more than twice as much as mining.
The study says the country needs to spend $US1.4 trillion ($2.4 billion) to provide enough water to meet the current demand and is urging governments to fund water infrastructure.
In response to the report, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Australia needed to focus on a water-centric approach to solving the problem.
“Australia needs to find a solution that delivers the water we need to get the jobs we need and to support the health and well-being of Australians,” he said.
He said the report found water infrastructure had been underutilised by just one-third of the water users.
“Australia’s water system needs to be upgraded so it can provide safe drinking water to the population,” Mr Hunt said.
He said Australia was over-reliant on water-intensive agriculture, which relies heavily on water.
Australia’s agriculture sector is the second-most water-consuming sector, accounting for almost two-thirds of the country’s water use, behind the mining industry.
Water demand is expected to peak by 2035, and while it is forecast to grow faster than economic growth, water use is expected fall from a peak of 783 billion litres in 2015-16 to around 731 billion litres by 2036.
Mr Hunt said a plan for an infrastructure bank to help countries meet their water demand was being discussed.
“[The plan] would be a mechanism that would allow countries to borrow money to fund the infrastructure of infrastructure that needs to support their water use and to fund their water infrastructure,” he told ABC Radio.
It would also include water-efficiency and climate change measures, he said, in addition to reducing water usage.
Water demand has been declining over the past three decades and is expected increase by a further two per cent this year.
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