News National How long until drought-stricken towns run out of water?

How long until drought-stricken towns run out of water?

The drought which is affecting 55 towns will stay in people's minds well after it's over. Photo: Getty
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Gardens are dead, people skip showers and water quality has worsened — the big dry dominates conversation in coffee shops, pubs and homes.

This is what day zero is like in Australia, as an unprecedented drought leaves 55 towns at risk of running out of water, if they haven’t already.

It’s forced states and councils to fork out hundreds of millions of dollars on emergency water infrastructure.

How much water is left?

An ABC analysis of data provided by state and local governments paints a dire picture across New South Wales, Queensland and parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

It is a situation changing weekly as recent and forecast rainfall tops up thirsty weirs, rivers and dams.

This map shows how many months towns have left based on worst-case scenarios (if it does not rain and if water infrastructure plans and upgrades fail).

The saviour for some towns has been, and will be, bore water.

This water is accessed by drilling into underground aquifers or water storages and pumping it to the surface.

Bore water needs to be tested and treated, but it has become a vital back-up for numerous towns reliant on dams and rivers.

Is this the new normal?

The very existence of some smaller towns may hang in the balance if long-term water supply is not available.

Bureaucrats say that trucking in water to those tiny communities may become the only way they can survive future droughts.

But water carting, as it’s called, isn’t economically sustainable for bigger populations, which is why so much money is being spent on upgrading dams, pipelines and bores.

The NSW Government alone has committed $250 million to emergency water infrastructure projects in the past two years, staving off day zero for numerous towns.

Some locals living in these areas feel like they are constantly on water restrictions, another measure councils right across the country have imposed.

Tenterfield pre-school children learn to soap their hands with the tap off to conserve water. Photo: ABC

The severity of this drought will likely linger in people’s minds even after the drought breaks, changing the way they conserve water in the future.

And there are already positive signs like in Armidale in northern NSW.

While the community is restricted to using 160 litres per person per day, residents have gone further and cut back usage to 135 litres.

“People have really got on board,” Mayor Simon Murray said.

Other councils are also looking beyond the drought and considering how recycling sewage water could help.

Foresight and innovation will be critical for future generations in country towns.