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Rain, rain and more rain!

You know what the biggest surprise about Australia has been? I’ll tell you. It’s the rain! When I was packing, I thought to myself, I’ll bring my rain jacket, just in case…. Well, turns out I’ve needed my rain jacket here more than I remember needing it when I lived in London! What the heck?!

Turns out, Adelaide, where I’m living, gets heaps of rain during the winter (they love to say heaps here.) It is right by the ocean, and the Adelaide Hills act as this natural barrier which makes rain fall. Everything right now is so green and so wet — in fact, lots of things are not drying out at all, including the fields we play frisbee on!

The most confusing part for me is that there are major concerns about whether Adelaide will have sufficient water for its population in the near future. In fact, they’re building a desalination plant to address this concern. The befuddling part is that it really seems to me like Adelaide gets enough water during the winter (and fall and spring) that they shouldn’t need a desal plant if they managed their water wisely.

I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, but I do know that the majority of Adelaide’s stormwater runoff is channeled to run straight out into the ocean. Doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous that instead of directing that water to some wetlands or something like that, they’re just going to build a desal plant to turn freshwater that they dump into the ocean back into freshwater? What if you just kept it fresh (not salty) instead?

Apparently, much of what is now roads and homes used to be wetlands, which provided Adelaide with a permanent source of water all year long. I realize that you can’t just move those homes, but there has to be somewhere for a wetland, or a place to store all of this stormwater instead of letting it run straight out into the ocean. I suppose desal plants sound sexy — there’s no problem we can’t build our way out of with new big infrastructure — but the price tag and the amount of energy needed to run those things must give pause to any thinking person.

Regardless of how much rain Adelaide gets, most places where irrigators are irrigating do not receive that much rain, and so Australia still needs to figure out a better balance between irrigation and the environment (rivers). But, it sure seems like there’s a very obvious solution for Adelaide that does not involve a desal plant and would certainly be much cheaper than a desal plant. Why does it seem so hard for cities to make smart choices about water management?

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