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California Lawmakers Travel to Australia for Drought Lessons

By Denise Valenzuela

Posted in

Don’t be fooled – the recent rain that Southern California has experienced has not made a dent in our ongoing 4 year drought.  The drought continues to persist and is very bad despite false claims that El Nino will pull the southwest out of this terrible drought.  In response California lawmakers are joining environmental, labor and business leaders on a trip to see how Australia managed its longest and most severe drought on record.

The drought changed the way Australia treats its water resources. Because of the long-term effects of the drought now showing, many state governments are attempting to “drought-proof” their states with more permanent solutions.

Australia in the past hundred years has relied solely on water from dams for agriculture and consumption. Now schemes like grey-water water-recycling, government rebates for home-owners to install water tanks, and tougher restrictions on industries have come into effect.

The citizens of Toowoomba voted on, and rejected, a referendum on using recycled sewerage water. However, after the referendum Toowoomba began using recycled sewerage water as no other feasible alternative was available. Brisbane is set to be supplied via larger dams, a pipeline and possibly also recycling. A desalination project has been initiated on the Gold Coast, Queensland, but plans for a similar project in Sydney were halted after public opposition and the discovery of underground aquifers. In November 2006 Perth completed a seawater desalination plant that will supply the city with 17% of its needs. Likewise, the Victorian Government is also in the process of building one of the world’s largest desalination plants. When complete, it will be capable of producing up to a third of Melbourne’s water needs.

Dairy producers have been hit particularly hard by the drought that has swept much of Australia. And 2004 was a particularly bleak year in the sector, as a drought-caused drop in production sent revenue in the industry down by 5.6%.

Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, a Republican from Modesto, is among the 11 lawmakers from both political parties on the trip.The trip is organized and paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think-tank.  Many of the above Australian responses are already being considered int he progressive state of CA.

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