While most of us are doing our best to conserve the precious resource and making all sorts of sacrifices, it seems at least one major South Australian project's making a mockery of the State Government's water-saving sanctions.
Adelaide's Northern Expressway's soaking up millions and millions of litres from an aquifer when recycled water was offered at a low cost from the start.
The massive $564 million Northern Expressway jointly funded by the South Australian and Commonwealth Governments is a very thirsty beast indeed and what's happening out here is likely to shock every South Australian.
Fulton Hogan is the New Zealand contractor building this expressway using mostly Victorian workers.
They've come across the border to show us how to build a road and show us how to get our water dirt cheap!
Independent candidate for the Upper House Mark Aldridge lives out here and has been watching the passing parade of water trucks filling up from bores sunk into the steadily declining aquifer.
“I’ve always believed that water was something that was for everybody. For us to share, I mean constitutionally it says that.
You can see one filling up, one come back through fill up, then another one. It's never ending.
There is currently a moratorium on taking water out of the aquifer unless you have an existing licence, now the road builders may have grabbed a few with the acquisition of property out this way but, as we've been told, they must account for the quantity they use.
"Unregulated taking of water while the rest of us ...our lawns are dying, doesn't seem right to me."
"Each tanker carries a large quantity of water. We have fifty thousand litre tankers. We have thirty thousand litre tankers… three of four per site filling up ten, eleven, twelve times a day. That's a lot of water. We’re talking the vicinity of thirty and fifty million litres of water a week," says Mark.
Tess Goldy has been working on the expressway project and she's seen plenty.
“…bore systems placed all along the entire expressway. Everyone sorta helped themselves to it," says Tess.
But the contractors didn't have to take this precious resource from an already fragile eco system.
According to Colin Pitman they were offered a deal by the City of Salisbury to supply all the water they needed through the councils’ innovative water conservation and recycling program.
“We offered water which is of low price, good quality and the right location but the contractor chose not to use it.”
We made a commercial offer to the company concerned. The company decided other wise and we found out later that they actually consumed… they’ve been consuming water from the native ground water source in the area, we were disappointed," says Colin.
“We currently have approximately five giga-litres of water available for alternative uses."
Using figures given to us by Vic Roads we estimate that over the two years of this project the contractors have used around 670 million litres of water… and we've been conservative.
Ignoring the drought and the extra 10 kilometres of upgrading of Port Wakefield Road, we know Fulton Hogan have purchased 18 million litres of reclaimed water from Bolivar through the Virginia pipeline, but that still leaves 650 million litres or possibly more that has come out of the aquifer.
Bob Seiffert from the Civil Contractors Federation admits the highway heavies will always find the cheapest source of water.
Most people in the community would agree this is one area, from an environmental and social aspect, we ought to be doing something about," says Bob.
“They will do what is necessary to get them to win the tender by and large. You can't blame them. If the government said well we want you to have a social environmental conscience on this and we'll seriously consider it in the tender then our people will take it a lot more serious."
We hope they do before it's too late.
“The danger of course realised over many years is ...and it shows that the aquifer has been over subscribed ...there’s been quotas put on the aquifer and in fact there’s no more licences being issued in the area," explains Colin.
The aquifer is not the only victim here. According to young Tess, her six months working on the project has left her shattered.
The 22 year old claims she should never have been allowed to drive some of the heavy machinery.
"I drove a fifty ton dump truck on work experience and then fourteen ton roller for the next year after that.”
“Have you got a licence?”
“Only an L on my car licence and a ticket for my roller…. It’s a huge piece of machinery and I was reversing up to a cliff face thirty seconds after being in one," says Tess
She also finds herself in a catch 22 with her employment.
Still under a two year contract to work on the expressway but not being paid, she is not allowed to claim welfare benefits leaving her almost broke.
“I’m classed as permanent full time hired in a contract, Centrelink won’t touch me. I’m not eligible for free food parcels from charities. I’ve been homeless enough times in my life already I thought I’d finally worked my life out and thought I could get somewhere,” says Tess.
While Tess is sad about her own dilemma the Adelaide plains irrigators and the public deserve answers over this unbridled guzzling. To say nothing of the householders under threat for using more than a trickle.
“Our production of food out here is quite large in Virginia and surrounding areas and people now can't access water because the water is disappearing and people have been wondering why," says Mark.
An insider told us today the contractors unlike the farmers are exempt from metering the bore pump water that they are taking but try as we may we have not been able to get any clear answers to our simple questions ... Are the bores metered, who's paying for the water and why are the contractors not required to use the recycled water on offer. Has a cosy deal been done?
“The State government have had no respect for our water resources for a long time from my point of view. The State Government need to be held accountable for this. They would have been well aware of the amount of water needed to supply an infrastructure project like this and they have just been ignorant,” says Mark.