Restrictions on outdoor water use were a key element of the response to drought in metropolitan Melbourne. A ban on public and private lawn watering was in place since the introduction of Stage 3 restrictions on 1 January 2007. However, in designing and implementing the current drought response framework, the Victorian water industry has sought to recognise the “social and public benefits” of participation in sports by communities (Victorian and Water Industry Association 2004).
When stage 3A restrictions were introduced in April 2007, managers of sportsgrounds – mainly local councils – were limited to watering 1 in 4 sites, and were required to make a 25 per cent saving in water used on those grounds watered. In late 2007, an allocation system was introduced as an alternative option, with the aim of enabling local councils greater flexibility in water management, and to improve overall efficiency and effectiveness of water use on sportsgrounds. Since then, there has been continued interest in developing more innovative ways to encourage and support local councils in improving their water use.
However, the contemporary experiences of local council water managers, and their experiences in balancing public benefit and financial drivers, has not been documented. This project therefore aims to inform the development of future drought response mechanisms, by providing insight into recent perspectives from Melbourne’s metropolitan local councils.
The Institute for Sustainable Futures chose a range of councils to approach for interviews. The interviews conducted for this research were undertaken using a semi-structured format. In choosing the six councils that were eventually interviewed, researchers incorporated the advice of water industry professionals, and aimed to achieve a reasonable mix across the following criteria:
- geographic location
- water retailer area
- water use model (‘1 in 4’ or allocation)
- number of sportsgrounds under council management
- level of access to alternative water sources
- relative socio-economic disadvantage
- climatic factors (rainfall)
This research has focussed on grassed sportsgrounds, and these are certainly a significant part of local culture and community. However, there are a range of other types of recreational facilities that were not discussed in this project, including other grassed passive-use recreational spaces (such as parks) as well as non-grassed sporting facilities.
The findings are intended to provide a picture of the experiences of the selected councils only. There are 31 councils in metropolitan Melbourne, and this research has only engaged with six of them. For this reason, even though the participating councils were chosen for their diversity, this small sample cannot be said to be representative.
Overall, this research has demonstrated that councils are responding actively and creatively to the challenges of drought and water restrictions. Council staff have developed considerable expertise in the area of water efficient sportsground management, and are very interested in opportunities to reducing demand and increase the efficiency of their irrigation systems. At the same time they feel a genuine responsibility to their communities, who value the provision and maintenance of sporting and recreational facilities very highly. Local councils also face significant financial constraints, and need to be able to justify their investment in water efficiency to their ratepayers. The research confirms that, as the drought and water restrictions continue, it will be important for water retailers and the State Government to continue working closely with local councils in order to maximise opportunities for demand reduction and efficiency.