Water Matters - Issue 48, April 2019

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WELS scheme the 'unsung hero' of Australian water efficiency

Thanks to the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme, Australian households saved $1 billion in 2017 in terms of lower household bills.

Australian households collectively saved more than 112 billion litres of water in 2017 under the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) and are on track to saving 230 billion litres a year by 2036.

These estimates come from an independent evaluation of WELS by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

The department commissioned the study to assess the scheme’s comparative costs and benefits.

According to project leader Simon Fane, Associate Professor with the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, the study findings suggest WELS is ‘the unsung hero’ of Australia’s water efficiency push.


Continue reading about WELS scheme the 'unsung hero' of Australian water efficiency

‘This is a scheme Australia can be very proud of,’ Associate Professor Fane said when presenting his findings to department staff in Canberra.

Associate Professor Fane said the WELS scheme’s benefits vastly outweigh its costs with the scheme delivering returns in saved water, reduced greenhouse emissions, and lower energy and water bills for Australians.

The study calculated the benefit-to-cost ratio for WELS at 8.8 to 1, with a projected increase to 96 to 1 by the year 2036.

Better off under WELS

To assess the scheme’s effectiveness, Associate Professor Fane and his team drew on data from sources including the Australian Bureau of Statistics to model and compare water consumption in two ‘parallel futures’ of an Australia with and without WELS.

The team’s modelling showed Australia was saving 112 GL of water in 2017 when compared with the ‘no WELS’ scenario.

The modelling also projected further anticipated water savings of 230 GL annually by 2036.

When we break down the water saved to date under WELS, 39 per cent was from more efficient taps and 27 per cent from more efficient shower heads. More water-efficient clothes washing machines accounted for another 17 per cent of water saved.

Australian households under WELS saved $1 billion in 2017 in terms of lower household bills, with three quarters of these savings coming from using less energy to produce hot water.

The study projects a total of $2.6 billion in annual bill savings for Australia under WELS by 2036.

World looks to WELS

Associate Professor Fane said countries around the world were turning to WELS as a model for their own programs.

‘A lot of other schemes exist around the world but most are voluntary for manufacturers and sellers, whereas ours is mandated,’ he said.

‘Making a scheme mandatory actually makes a huge difference to its effectiveness.

‘It gives consistency and continuity, and it gives confidence to consumers in terms of how much water they’ll save by choosing the more water-efficient appliance.’

Despite the success of WELS so far, Associate Professor Fane noted that continuing effort would be needed both on the compliance and awareness side to reap the savings projected under the modelling.

‘Compliance is a non-linear thing. You need to keep people engaged with and believing in the scheme otherwise it loses effectiveness.’

For more about WELS visit the Water Rating website or email our program team at WELS.

You can also read the full report, Evaluation of the environmental and economic impacts of the WELS scheme, on the Water Rating website.


Rebates for drought-affected livestock farmers

The rebates are helping drought-affected livestock farmers to manage their water and to prepare for future droughts.

Australian, state and territory governments are working together to deliver $50 million in rebates to enable drought-affected livestock farmers to buy and upgrade on-farm water infrastructure.

According to Paul Morris, who heads our department’s Water Division, the rebates enable drought-hit livestock farmers to claim up to 25 per cent of expenses associated with buying and installing new on-farm water infrastructure. He said the rebates covered eligible expenses incurred since 1 July 2018 and up to a maximum of $25,000.

‘It’s important we support drought-affected livestock farmers so they can better care for their animals during drought and prepare for future droughts,’ said Mr Morris.

‘New water infrastructure will also help make farmers more productive after the drought breaks,’ he said.


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The On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate scheme can be applied to new purchases and installation of pipes, water storage (water tanks and water troughs), water pumps, de-silting dams, drilling new stock water bores, and associated power supplies such as generators.

Eligible farmers in New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and the Northern Territory can apply for the rebate now through state agencies. Other states are expected to come on board soon.

Check our website for eligibility conditions and how to apply.


World Wetlands Day focuses on climate change

Aerial view of Lakes Argyle and Kununurra Ramsar wetlands and adjacent agricultural land along Ord River, near Kununurra, Western Australia.

Communities around Australia and the world celebrated World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2019.

The theme for this year’s day, ‘Wetlands and climate change’, acknowledged the important role wetlands play in both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Australia’s climate has changed. According to CSIRO, air and sea temperatures have warmed by around one degree Celsius in the last 100 years, heat waves and fire weather have increased, and rainfall patterns have changed.

Continue reading about World Wetlands Day focuses on climate change

Climate change projections for Australia reported in Australia’s changing climate, produced jointly by CSIRO, the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Bureau of Meteorology, indicate likely:

  • further increases in temperature
  • altered rainfall patterns
  • increased risk of intense rainfall and flash flooding in many regions
  • increased drought frequency and severity in some regions
  • rising sea levels.

The current edition of Wetlands Australia magazine, produced by the Department of the Environment and Energy, covers the impact of climate change on wetlands, managing wetlands in a changing climate, and the role of wetlands in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

For more information see Wetlands and Climate Change Resources and the fact sheet Wetlands and Climate Change.

Farmer gets a sweet water deal on dates and grapes

Dave Reilly‘s old asbestos pipeline (pictured) has been upgraded with irrigation efficiency funding from the Australian Government.

Water irrigation efficiency upgrades on a 29 hectare date farm and 12 hectare vineyard have increased production and opened up new export opportunities for fruit grower Dave Reilly.

Mr Reilly’s properties lie in the Riverland region on the southern end of the Murray–Darling Basin.

His upgrades were funded as part of a water efficiency pilot project by the Australian Government.


Continue reading about farmer gets a sweet water deal on dates and grapes

Water savings for the environment

‘On one property we draw our water from the Gurra Gurra wetlands, which is a bit challenging because it's quite salty. On our other property we've got beautiful River Murray water and the quality is really good,’ Mr Reilly said.

The water he saves will also help to restore the rivers and waterways of the Basin.

‘We are returning 44.5 megalitres of water to the government in return for modernising and future-proofing our irrigation system,’ Mr Reilly said.

This will help contribute to the water saving targets set out in the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

State-of-the-art irrigation system

Dave Reilly’s farm uses water via surface drip irrigation and he described the upgrades to his system as going from the 1970s to the 2020s.

‘We had a very old-fashioned system that was very manual and had limitations on it where we weren't able to be particularly efficient,’ Mr Reilly said.

‘We had an old asbestos pipeline that supplied the water but we couldn't put through any more than about 28 psi (pounds per square inch) or we'd blow the line. It didn't have any filtration, it was just an open pipe into the river where we had constant problems with things blocking up.

‘Now we're going to have a very modern system.’

The major water saving component of the upgrades was modernisation of the irrigation mainline and pumping infrastructure.

‘We've put in a 350 mm welded black poly pipe, reducing to a 200 mm PVC white pipe system and that enables us to run high pressure through,’ Mr Reilly said.

‘We can run efficient dripper systems as opposed to sprinklers or flood [irrigation], and that is all operated from a 50 horsepower pump and motor that has the ability to be started remotely.’ 

The project has also enabled Mr Reilly to install probes to monitor soil moisture levels.

‘We have not had moisture monitoring probes before so that's very exciting for us to manage our crops better,’ he said.

‘The probes give us the ability for the first time to record how much water that we need to be applying for a date palm’s actual usage.

‘The automatic flushing filters and automation mean we'll be able to run our pump a lot more efficiently and give our plants only just what they need not what they want.’

New growth opportunities

Mr Reilly believes the improved fruit production resulting from the irrigation infrastructure upgrades will help them to fulfil the growing demand for their 28 varieties of dates.

‘We have got strong export signals for this product,’ he said.

‘We're looking at getting fruit into the United Arab Emirates. We've got firm orders there and also there are countries on our doorstep. We hope to be able to supply countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and into the Arab Gulf countries.’

Funding for water-saving projects

The Australian Government has allocated $1.5 billion up until 2024 to deliver water-saving projects across the Murray–Darling Basin.

Email our program team to be kept up to date about new funding opportunities in your area.


Murray–Darling Basin irrigation farm surveys underway

ABARES is surveying irrigation farms in the Murrumbidgee, Murray, Goulburn-Broken, Loddon-Avoca and Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges catchments.

Growers and landholders across the southern Murray–Darling Basin are participating in the annual irrigation industry survey.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) is conducting face-to-face interviews between March and May 2019 with farmers in the Murrumbidgee, Murray, Goulburn-Broken, Loddon-Avoca and Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges catchments.

The purpose of this survey is to provide information for government, industry and producers on the production and economic structure of irrigators in the Murray–Darling Basin. This information is used to help target research and development, and to inform industry planning.

ABARES officers will contact eligible farm businesses to arrange a convenient time to interview them on their farm.


Continue reading about Murray–Darling Basin irrigation farm surveys underway

The survey is voluntary. All information provided remains confidential and survey findings will not identify individuals or their businesses.

According to acting ABARES executive director Peter Gooday, ABARES has been conducting farm surveys on behalf of the Australian Government for more than 30 years.

‘The survey data informs long-term planning to guide the future of our primary industries,’ said Mr Gooday.

‘Farm surveys have provided a broad range of information on current and historical economic performance of Australian farm businesses to producers, industry and governments. This in turn supports informed on-farm decision-making and investment,’ he said.

To see previous survey results, visit the ABARES Farm surveys and analysis and Publications pages.

For more information about the surveys contact the ABARES farm surveys and analysis team or phone 1800 026 308.


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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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