Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Skies Have Opened, And The 'City Of Drought' Eases Back Water Restrictions

Many residents of Goulburn, in the NSW southern highlands, used to shower with buckets around their feet to collect every spare drop of precious water. Water was precious they weren't allowed to wash their cars or water their gardens.

For more than two years, Goulburn was the largest 'dry' town in Australia, and the savage drought that almost emptied local dams looked like it was never going to end. Lawns turned to dust, gardens died and people all over the country saw in Goulburn a dawning reality that they feared they would soon have to deal with themselves, in their own towns and cities.

But the skies have opened up over Goulburn and the primary dam for the city's water supply is now more than 50% full, after a low of a mere 12% capacity.

Goulburn residents may not be dancing in the streets, but they are watering their gardens.

In a number of interviews with locals aired on television and radio today and tonight, Goulburn residents talked about how they would never take water for granted again, and how the drought and increasingly harsh water restrictions had changed their lives.

Many seemed to think the changes are for the better.

They said they had learned that water could not be wasted, and some shook their heads in disbelief at how, years before, they had treated water as a commodity that would never run out.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

The NSW southern highlands city, which had come to symbolise the plight of the state's drought-stricken rural areas, will go from level 5 to level 3 water restrictions following June's heavy rain.

But one nursery owner said it wouldn't make much difference to his business as most residents had already adapted to the dry conditions.

"When it first started [in 2002], well, you could stand in the store and there would be no one around,'' said Shane Nelson, 42, who owns the Gehl Garden Centre & Wholesale Nursery in Goulburn.

"As time has progressed people have actually seemed to have adapted pretty well to the restrictions. People started adjusting to the conditions and got water-tanks on their houses, used grey or bore water. We definitely diversified ourselves into other things like garden furniture and pots.''

Mr Nelson said the restrictions had meant his customers moved towards plants that were less thirsty and more able to cope with the dry conditions.

"Roses have done very well as they actually seem to thrive a lot better in the dry conditions,'' he said. "They are very disease and pest-prone in moisture.

Plants such as camellias and rhododendrons, which favour moist positions, are not as popular now, Mr Nelson said.

"I talk to customers now and they use more water than they've ever done because of their tank supply,'' he said. "The first couple of years of the restrictions, if I could have picked up my plants and left, I would have. But soon we were holding our own.''

After strong June rains Goulburn's dam levels more than quadrupled, with one of its storages spilling over for the first time in six years.