Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Parched city records barely a drop

Peter Ker 
The Age, October 1, 2008

HISTORY is made every September in Melbourne, but never before like this.

The ninth month of 2008 has smashed rainfall records, with the city centre registering its driest September since records began in 1855.

The Bureau of Meteorology revealed yesterday that its Melbourne observation station — near the corner of Exhibition and La Trobe streets — captured just 12 millimetres of rain for the month.

The result was almost a fifth of the September average and comfortably below the previous record low of 13.4 millimetres in September 1907.

The virtual failure of early spring rains — in the heart of what is usually the dam-filling period — comes as Melbourne's storages hover at 34.5% of capacity, more than 91 billion litres less than at the same time last year.

Melbourne Water sought to clarify the bureau's dire result yesterday, saying that 64.7 millimetres, or roughly half the average September rainfall, fell over the catchments, which are mostly east of the city.

But the bureau's head of climate analysis, Dr David Jones, said the low falls in central Melbourne were a "significant record", particularly given temperatures would lead to one of the top-three warmest Septembers on record.

"This pattern of warm days and dry months is just becoming all too monotonous in Melbourne." he said. "The drought is 12 years old in Melbourne — if anything it is getting worse, it's not getting better, and the temperatures just keep going up."

Dr Jones said he expected below-average rainfall in Melbourne for the remainder of 2008.

"It raises the very obvious question over whether this is simply a drought or is this really part of climate change … it is becoming very difficult to make a case that this is just simply a run of bad luck," he said.

Melbourne Water managing director Rob Skinner said the catchments were not wet enough to convert modest rains into dam inflows, with inflows 43% below the monthly average.

"September is normally one of the wettest months for our catchments and a time when we'd hope to see them rebound ahead of summer," he said.

The Brumby Government will launch a major advertising and education campaign in coming weeks designed to remind Melburnians about the need to conserve water.

Despite the dire spring rains, water consumption levels in Melbourne have risen since the end of winter. Many experts believe that the planned construction of a desalination plant has led to an increase in public apathy towards water conservation.

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