Have we changed our cultures of urban water?

5 Mar 2012

There were times during the drought when I caught myself trading a couple of extra minutes in the shower against the water tank out the window. There was no material connection – the tank was not connected to the shower – but there was a subconscious exchange of guilt with smugness. So I was not surprised when, after substantial initial savings, the water bill started to creep up again.


After a decade of drought and a couple of wet years, urban Australians are emerging from the strictures of a diet into a maintenance regime. Now as we shower it is often raining out the window, so it is a good time to reflect on whether we have shifted our cultures of urban water into a more sustainable mode of operation. Can we maintain our portion control, or are we headed for a junk food blowout? Is the controversial toilet etiquette ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’ just an affectation of affluent urbanites who have never had to live with unhygienic sanitary conditions? And even if not, should it be maintained in wetter times? What is the role and responsibility of the household in driving or maintaining change, given an underlying infrastructure developed around what Zoë Sofoulis has dubbed ‘Big Water’ – the fantasy of endless supply? To what extent can behavioural and technical changes translate into real and sustained water savings, given the infrastructure of supply?

A body of cultural research on urban water practices allows us to step back and examine the extent to which we have shifted under the power of drought. The drought threw light on and de-routinised many of our water practices, but have they regrouped into more sustainable long-term configurations?

Image: solidether / flickr

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Geographic Coverage