We all assume the Middle East is the world’s driest region, because people literally live in the desert. Or maybe we think dry regions dominate Africa, since the news is full of stories about drought, malnutrition, and residents travelling hundreds of kilometres in search of water. Reality is a bit different. According to statistics – ironically – Antarctica is the worlds’ driest land mass. Technically, it probably has more ‘water’ then any other place in the world … but that water is in the form of ocean, ice, and snow.
That’s probably the crux of the matter – dryness isn’t measured by moisture. Instead, it’s gauged by annual rain, because rain water is the only kind we can freely access. Underground water has to be dug up and pumped, and salt water (from oceans, seas, and saline lakes) has to be desalinated before use. All these processes take time and money, as compared to rain water, which only needs to be harvested and possibly boiled before use.
Antarctica gets less than 50mm of rainfall every year. Australia is the second-driest nation, receiving an average of 400mm of rain annually. Aussie climatic regions are quite diverse, so some areas get 600mm a year while others are below 300mm. It’s also curious to note that 85% of Aussies live in coastal regions, with the farthest living roughly 50km inland. Our interior outback is largely uninhabited, with sparse, nomadic, indigenous populations. These low rainfall levels have prompted government involvement.
Coastal weather breeds swimming pools, so despite the low levels of water access, lots of Aussie homes have both a pool and a water tank. Sometimes, tank installation is mandatory. It’s a term of BASIX housing regulation, which demands new builders (and their buildings) to use 40% less water and emit 25% fewer greenhouse gases as a construction requirement. BASIX stands for Building Sustainability Index and is enforced by councils and contractors, so by the time you buy or rent the house, compliance is pre-approved.
BASIX is facilitated using solar heaters, water tanks, insulation, pumps, and water recycling systems. Your construction site will be evaluated as part of BASIX assessment and a BASIX certificate will be issued, listing necessary conservation measures. On the other hand if you have a property and you’re considering a water tank, the government wants to encourage you to install one. It helps meet their target of sustainable water access for all Aussies. Installing a water tank can cost anything from $500 to $20,000, depending on various factors.
The material used will affect the price – with plastic being the cheapest and concrete being the most pricy, especially if it’s reinforced with steel. There are also labour costs that can vary from $300 to $1,000, which means tank installation can be quite a financial burden. The NSW government therefore created a rebate programme where they would subsidise the cost of your water tank, but only if it was a voluntary undertaking. BASIX installations aren’t eligible for subsidies, because they’re a legal requirement.
No more rebates
Unfortunately, the water tank rebate programme was discontinued in June 2018 due to budget cuts. They’re gone in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territories, but while rebates were still in place, there were clear requirements. For example, while your property may need multiple tanks, you could only get a rebate for a single installation. You’d have to cover the other costs yourself. Also, the minimal tank capacity allowed under the rebate programme was 2,000 litres for urban areas and 25,000 litres for rural areas.
Rebates covered both surface tanks and underground water tank installation. Residents would have to pay the initial cost of installation before applying for rebates, and council representatives have to inspect the completed tank before approving any rebates. Eligible costs included plumbing and installation, so you’d have to be sure you used licensed, approved plumbers to install pumps, pressure gauges, and toilet / washing machine linkage. This plumbing required council approval, both for design and labour sources, so you could only a licensed plumber recognised and approved by the council.
The tank you were installing had to be recently purchased, manufactured no earlier than 2005, with a warranty of at least 12 months. It had to stay on your property for a minimum of 5 years before you could relocate, and the council may ask you to be a research subject as part of your rebate agreement. They needed to gather data they could apply elsewhere. Eligible properties required an approved connection to water mains. Your tank rebate was only intended for supplementary rainwater harvesting and storage. It wasn’t intended to be your main source of water. All that said, the programme has now been discontinued, so you’ll have to find other ways to fund your water tank.