Doing the Rain Dance Down Under

G’Day Folks!

I trust you’re all in fine fettle back up there in the northern hemisphere

I’m back at the keyboard after a week’s absence. Over the past few days, the workload has increased considerably and to be honest, coupled with the hours spent in the car on the commute, the last thing I have felt like doing is spending more time staring at the screen, hoping for the creative juices to flow.

But I’m back now and I’m raring to go. So, as they say, on with the show!

I never thought I’d hear myself saying the words “I wish it would rain” but sure enough, I find myself increasingly engaged in these conversations with some of the locals down here.

Now don’t get me wrong – it’s not because I’ve had enough of, or don’t like the glorious sunshine that this part of the world basks in because in fact, I enjoy it immensely. I thrive in the good weather and the bronzed Adonis that I’m sure lurks within this Joe Average from Norn Iron is surely to make his grand appearance anytime soon.

Nor is it because the locals also suffer from that wonderfully British habit of discussing the weather at every opportune moment.

Even now – as Australia heads into its winter months, South Queensland is enjoying clear blue skies with temperatures regularly reaching the mid to high twenties.

But you see folks, that’s just it - too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and the current climate is a fine example of just that.

Right here in Queensland, amongst other parts of this vast continent, we are in the throes of a severe drought that is threatening to become something of an emergency situation without rain – and plenty of it - some time soon.

Yep, things are getting rather serious around these parts.

In December of 2005, Brisbane water storage levels sat at a measly 35 percent – now they sit at less than 20.

Just a couple of weeks ago, South East Queensland, including the state capital city of Brisbane was put onto Level 5 water restrictions. To put this into perspective the scale only goes as far as Level 8.

Level 5 means that – amongst other things – there are restrictions on using sprinkler systems, washing vehicles, hosing in paved areas, refilling swimming pools and watering lawns (with locals only allowed to bucket 3 afternoons a week.)

The government has set a target of 140 litres personal water use per person per day. Before Level 5, average consumption stood at 198 litres. Now we are down to 160 litres, which is still not good enough.

Any household caught using more than 800 litres a day will have to explain their water use or face a hefty fine.
This is the highest level of water restrictions that Australia – a country that is used to very hot weather - has ever reached with Level 5 last being reached in Melbourne in 1983.
Now obviously this isn’t the sort of problem that we’d experience back home – although I do seem to recall the occasional hosepipe ban after a few hot days, which beggars belief considering the amount of rainfall we get in The Emerald Isle.
Hoping for heavy rainfalls in April, so as to avoid the introduction of level 5 restrictions, Brisbane city had just 3ml of rainfall the whole month, compared with a yearly average of 53 ml. Things are not looking good.
But it doesn’t stop there.
As you can imagine, this has become a huge political issue in the region and the impression that I get is that for the most part, the Australian public is adhering to the government’s “Let’s watch every drop” campaign.
But there’s only so much the public can take.
A public that has been consistently and repeatedly urged by its government to save water at every opportune moment; using such techniques as cutting down shower use by 2 minutes each time, turning off the tap while brushing teeth or reducing the number of clothes washes per week by one.
Recently it transpired that a Brisbane outdoor public swimming pool was losing thousands of litres every day and that the state government building’s air-conditioning was cranked to a chilly 18 degrees, a totally unnecessary waste of water.
Needless to say, people want answers as to why these government failings can happen, especially considering the lengths some people are going to to reduce their personal water usage. For instance, I heard a female caller on the radio the other morning proudly announce to the listening public that her and her husband showered together and then bathed their two young children in the very same shower water.
Now I realise that this sort of behaviour would have been the norm back home a few decades ago. But that was a question of economics - I thought we’d left those times behind us.
Even though the government has seen this coming for almost 20 years, what with the number of people moving to the area increasing coupled with the rainfalls decreasing, they’ve just sat on the problem, secretly praying for rain to arrive.
In a rather surreal twist, one of the reasons that has been bandied about by the government is that it hasn’t been raining in the right places. Can you imagine that? If we used that excuse back home we’d be able to poke more fun at Larne’s expense – except in that case it most definitely does rain in the right place.
An obvious solution is to install household water tanks to catch whatever rainfall that does come but with installations running into anything from two to five thousand dollars – even with the assistance of government grants - it’s a huge expense for a lot of households and even then, the waiting list for these tanks is running into months.
In Brisbane there are controversial plans to introduce the use of recycled water, a prospect that has a lot of people feeling more than a little uncomfortable. In fact it has already been rejected by the people of Toowoomba, an hour south west of Brisbane. Sydney on the other hand, intends to build a desalination plant to convert seawater at the frightening cost of $1.3 billion.
Ironically enough considering its name, The Sunshine Coast where I live and just an hour’s drive north of Brisbane is ok. Apparently our rain falls in the right places.
So surely then, a solution would be to pipe some of the water down from this region to Brisbane. Give our neighbours a helping hand, as it were, to help them through this crisis?
Apparently not.
Driving north along the sunshine coast, to the region which has been earmarked for the building of a dam to help the situation, drivers are constantly shown examples of Love thy Neighbour, Australian style.
“SAY NO TO THE DAM!!” a huge sign screams out at you.
“IT’S OUR WATER!!” is the somewhat petulant message displayed on yet another one.
Of course, even if the locals reneged and stopped to help their mates in strife, building a dam will provide no immediate solution to the crisis. It will be a costly and time-consuming enterprise, the benefits of which will be unable to be enjoyed for 3 to 5 years from now.

So you see folks – living Down Under in the land of perpetual sunshine-filled days isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Next time you look out of your window as the grey skies empty their contents in all the right places (especially Larne) and you pray for the rain, rain to go to Spain – pray a little bit harder and see if you can send it down this way.

In the meantime, I’m off down to the beach for a bit of a rain dance.

Pass me the sunscreen.