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Water for Consumption

The provision (including retaining and storing) of water for consumptive use for a variety of purposes (e.g. aquaculture, production, humans, stock, irrigation and cooling).

 

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Provisioning Services

 

What is water for consumptive purposes and how is it derived?

SEQ catchments supply water for a wide range of consumptive purposes.

Water for consumption is one of the most readily recognisable ecosystem services as humans directly use the product 'water' in just about evey aspect of their lives. The most recognisable use of water is for drinking purposes, therefore this ecosystem service is both life supporting and life sustaining. The provision of this service is also vitally important to maintaining the economy of SEQ and the culture of the SEQ community. The large water supply catchments of SEQ supply water for households, industry, power production and agriculture. Quality of life in SEQ is therefore underpinned through access to a secure quantity of water of useable quality. In SEQ, the importance of this service is evident in the existing provision of markets for this ecosystem service. 

While non-climate dependent sources of water such as desalination and recycled water have been at the forefront of public debate in SEQ, the reality is that most people in the region depend on rainfall and our water supply catchments for most of their needs. Rainfall fed catchments provide the majority of water for consumption in SEQ.

Table 1 below presents the magnitude different ecosystem functions contribute to the provision of water for consumptive purposes (relative to other ecosystem functions). Rain falls over land before dispersing through overland and underground flows. Water becomes stored in soils, aquifers, rivers, wetlands and dams. Both the quantity of water falling in the catchments and the quality of water flowing into our storages is influenced by regulating functions (such as climate regulation, water regulation, soil retention, disturbance regulation and waste treatment and assimilation) that operate on global, regional and local scales.

Supporting habitats such as vegetation on slopes, stream banks and in stream habitats are vital for not only maintaining the above mentioned functions and for biodiversity's own sake, but also for provding water through precipitation and maintaining the landscape for further delivery of this ecosystem service. Recent modelling suggests a link between vegetation cover and climate outcomes (including precipitation) at a local scale. For example, replacement of native woody vegetation with crops and grazing in southwest Western Australia and eastern Australia has resulted in significant changes in the regional climate with a shift to warmer and drier conditions. 

 

Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Water for Consumption.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
1
2
3
4
5
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation





Climate Regulation





Disturbance Regulation





Water Regulation





Soil Retention





Nutrient Regulation





Waste Treatment and Assimilation





Pollination





Biological Control





Barrier Effect of Vegetation





Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats





Soil Formation





Provisioning Functions
Food





Raw Materials





Water Supply





Genetic Resources





Provision of Shade and Shelter





Pharmacological Resources





Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity





 

ARE HUMAN INPUTS REQUIRED TO FACILITATE water for consumption?

As the quantity and timing of rainfall in SEQ is inconsistent, the use of this service for agricultural purposes in most cultivated ecosystems is usually facilitated by a network of pipes.

Although the product 'water' is provided and stored freely by the environment, the use of this service is usually facilitated by the construction of water tanks, dams, treatment plants and a network of pipes transporting the water to the user's door. Water tanks and dams are designed to store water making it readily available for human consumption, but they require high human inputs such as technology, labour and money to maintain and run. Human inputs can be minimised by good catchment management practices. Other systems devised to access this service include directly pumping water from rivers to private property to feed agriculture and livestock.

 

Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

The greatest barrier to people receiving water for consumptive purposes is water scarcity (e.g. drought). In recent years SEQ residents have had restrictions imposed on how much water they can use and which days of the week they can use this water. Restrictions may also apply to the purpose of the water wanting to be consumed. Another barrier to receiving this service is the locality and connectivity of water infrastructure. This can be a barrier in both highly populated areas where there are limited natural ecosystems to retain and store water making people dependant on human infrastructure such as pipelines and water tanks; and in more remote areas with limited human infrastructure that can deliver water.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.

 

Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Water for Consumption contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
1
2
3
4
5
Existence
Breathing            
Drinking            
Nutrition            
Shelter            
Health
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Security
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            

 

HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE DEGRADING, MAINTAINING OR IMPROVING water for consumption?

 

The supply of this service is influenced by the amount of rainfall.

Ground cover influences the quality of water for consumptive purposes.

SEQwater manages our water storages.

Links to other publications and websites

SEQ Water
SEQ Water Strategy
SEQ Water Grid Manager
Treating Drinking Water
Total Water Cycle Mgmt

The quality and level of water in dams is actively monitored to ensure the supply of good quality water for drinking and other uses. Usage by the community and industry is also monitored which when combined with dam level information allows for forward planning including the use of water restrictions to ensure the ongoing supply of water. The majority of land within the water supply catchments in SEQ is privately owned. Some of this land is managed very well, while large areas are regularly left without enough ground cover to manage erosion and runoff. The resulting sediment flows into storages which then requires the water to undergo heavy chemical and mechanical treatment to make it fit for drinking and other uses.

Monitoring the amount of ground cover present including trees in our water supply catchments is a good indicator of the potential of catchments to supply water to a quality fit for consumptive purposes. Landuse has an impact on the ability of our storages to supply this service with urbanisation and some forms of agriculture more likely to have a negative impact on water quality.  These indicators can be measured with satellite imagery on a regular basis.

The Report Card for the health of our waterways also provides an annual rating of the health of the creeks and rivers that supply our water storages.  The information is collected through an established network of monitoring sites. These indicators are telling us that while the supply of this service is heavily affected by the amount of rainfall we receive, on average this service has declined in terms of the quantity and quality of water in our storages.  While this is largely a function of rainfall it is also due to the management of the catchments and their capacity to store rainfall particularly during periodic major floods.  In well vegetated landscapes this water can be stored in the soil and then released from the soil and underground water systems at a sustained rate over an extended period of time.  This greatly enhances the capacity of our storages to supply this service.

 

How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

Unlike many other areas of Australia, Queensland does not have a formalised Catchment Management Act. A vast array of acts and organisations have a degree of carriage in the protection of this ecosystem service however (e.g. Water Act 2007). Federal, State and Local Government laws and policies all have elements designed to protect this ecosystem service with varying degrees of success. The primary state agency responsible for this service is the Department of Energy and Water Supply.

In SEQ, water storages are managed by Seqwater while the supply of water is managed by a number of retail authorities. Seqwater stores and treats water for human and industrial use and actively monitors dam levels. This information is publicly available on their website. The information shows how the amount of water available for consumption varies as we experience droughts and floods. Seqwater develop and implement land management strategies for the water catchments in consultation with the land owners in an attempt to increase the storage capacity of the catchments and the storages.

The supply of treated water from the dams to users is managed by a number of retail authorities who charge users based on the amount of water used. Usage is therefore monitored by retail authorities which allows for the forward planning of supply based on current and predicted dam levels and short and long range weather forecasts. In times of drought targets are set for water consumption and promoted to the community. Water restrictions can also be put in place and monitored to support the achievement of these targets.