Where does all the water go?

With parliament about to go into its summer recess and an El Nino summer in the offing, meaning less rain (particularly in the eastern states) and raising the prospect of water restrictions in major urban areas, I thought it timely to have a look at what happens to water in Australia — how much we have, who uses it, who value adds to it and what the government is doing.

I think you all know about the ‘water cycle’. Basically our planet has a finite amount of water that has remained unchanged for millennia: the only thing that changes is the form that water is in. Taking a hypothetical 100-year life of a water droplet on our planet, as it is at the moment, it would spend about 97 years in the ocean, about 22 months as ice, around three weeks in lakes and rivers, and less than a week as water vapour in the atmosphere (which can become available as rain).

In other words, 96.5% of the earth’s water is in the salt water of our oceans: there is another one percent of saline water in groundwater and saline lakes. So we have about 2.5% freshwater but of that 1.8% is captured in ice and snow, and for human use our freshwater (in lakes and rivers, groundwater and in the atmosphere as potential rain) is only about 0.7% of the earth’s total water — but that still amounts to a lot of water, about 10.65 million cubic kilometres (although 10.5 million cubic kilometres of that is groundwater). There is 1000 gigalitres of water in a cubic kilometre and a billion litres of water in a gigalitre which means our estimated total freshwater resources are something like 10.65 million trillion litres — yes, mind boggling! Out of that only 2,120 trillion litres is readily accessible in rivers.

How does Australia fare in all this? — not very well but perhaps better than you think. Our rivers make up only 1% of the world’s river flows but, on the other hand, we have only 0.3% of the world’s population. In 2008‒09 we used 8,955 gigalitres of surface water and 380 gigalitres of groundwater, compared to 10,712 gigalitres and 448 gigalitres respectively in 2004‒05. (That was a period of drought and the 2008‒09 figures reflect reduced water availability as the drought lengthened — we subsequently had wet years in 2010 and 2011.) But in 2004‒05 we still received, across Australia as a whole, almost 2.8 million gigalitres of rain. So where did it all go? Well for a start most of it, about 2 million gigalitres, fell in the least populated areas, in north Queensland, northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In that year almost 90% of that rainfall disappeared in evaporation and transpiration — the latter being use by plants. Only 243,000 gigalitres was run off to replenish rivers and 49,000 gigalitres recharged groundwater. In addition we had 44,000 gigalitres stored in large dams for a total water stock of 336,000 gigalitres but that compared to a total water stock of 415,000 gigalitres in 1996‒97 before the drought. It is the norm that we have access to only about 10‒15% of our total rainfall which is at the lower end of such averages when compared to other countries.

It is all that rainfall in northern Australia that leads politicians to talk about ‘northern development’ but as CSIRO pointed out in 2009:
A lot rain falls on northern Australia, but its arrival is restricted in time and uneven in its distribution. Where and when it occurs is generally impractical for water resource development and there are large variations in how much comes year to year. There is little or no rain for three to six months every year … The landscape is generally not amenable to storing water and the climate is not conducive to keeping it.
So we have two major problems: the majority of our rain does not fall where the majority of people live and our rainfall is so variable. The latter leads to Australia having one of the highest storage to usage ratios of any country: our major dams generally provide from three to six years of usage whereas many countries store only one or two years’ usage, or in some cases less than a year.

Who uses the water we do have? For those of us — most of us — living in urban areas, you may be pleased to know that residential usage accounts for only about 9% of Australia’s total water usage (it has been as high as 11% in some years). That means that when water restrictions are in place it is not about the total amount of water we are using but the falling levels of our local water storage.

By far the majority of water use in Australia is for agriculture: around 65% (although it has fallen as low as 50% in drought years) and 90% of that is for irrigation of crops and pastures. In 2012‒13, agriculture used 12,780 gigalitres out of total water usage of 19,749 gigalitres (note that this is more than double the total usage in 2008‒09 when we were in drought and is more reflective of our ‘normal’ usage). You might think, yes, that is necessary — after all, we do need to eat.

Some of the bigger agricultural users of water were:
  • cotton, 3,285 gigalitres — 17% of our total water usage
  • dairy farming, 1,967 gigalitres — 10%
  • rice, 1,780 gigalitres — 9%
  • fruit and nut trees, 1,467 gigalitres — 7%
And then we add sheep, cattle and other grain crops (wheat, sorghum and so on) to make up most of the rest (about 17% of our total usage). It should also be noted that up to 80% of our total water usage occurs in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Mining and manufacturing each use about 3‒4% of our water: mining used 614 gigalitres in 2012‒13, and manufacturing 530 gigalitres. Mining in WA alone used 241 gigalitres or about 40% of the water used in mining.

In 2012‒13, agriculture generated about $3 million of production for each gigalitre of water used. [from ABS Data Cube here, open Monetary tables and then Table 7.] That compared to $191 million per gigalitre for mining and $192 million for manufacturing: or to convert that to litres, agriculture creates 0.3 cents of product per litre of water compared to about 19 cents per litre for manufacturing and mining. That doesn’t mean we should get rid of agriculture but it does raise questions about what we are achieving for the use of all that water. I am aware that water efficiency has improved in the agricultural sector, that even rice growers in Australia use about half the world average amount of water for each kilogram of rice, and that irrigation channels are being improved and enclosed to help reduce water loss. Despite that, the fact that we earn only a third of a cent for each litre of water used leaves a lingering doubt as to the agricultural sector’s overall efficiency.

What about the rest of us sitting on our suburban blocks? — what do we do with that 9% of water we use? For a start we actually use about 40‒44% of it outdoors, in our gardens and washing cars and structures. Indoors the shower is the biggest user of water accounting for about 20‒25%, then our toilets, around 10‒15%, and only around 8% for essential drinking and food preparation. Plus it is estimated that we lose about 4% in leakages. Those figures are my estimates from considering a number of sources as there are significant variations between Australian cities and, of course, in times of drought when outdoor use may be subject to restrictions.

Using the 2012‒13 household consumption of 1,851 gigalitres those percentages translate to approximately the following amounts of water:
  • outdoor use, 780 gigalitres
  • total indoor use, 1,070 gigalitres, including
  • shower and bath, 430 gigalitres
  • toilet, 260 gigalitres
  • drinking and food preparation, 150 gigalitres
So every person in Australia, in their homes, uses in total only 56% of the amount of water used by the cotton industry, and slightly less than the dairy industry and slightly more than the rice growers.

We have more than enough water for everyone but most of it is not where most of us live. From what is available for most of the population, we use two-thirds of it for agriculture. The 9% of the water we use in our homes is less than 0.5% of our total water stock while agriculture uses about 4%. Overall, Australia uses around 5% of its water stock each year. Some countries, with more reliable water resources, use as much as 20% of their water stock each year.

Governments across Australia are very conscious of water issues. The National Water Initiative (NWI) was agreed at COAG in 2004 and the National Water Commission was established to oversee its implementation. Some of its aims included:
  • effective water planning across all jurisdictions
  • nationally compatible and secure water entitlements
  • conjunctive management of surface and ground water, recognising the connectivity between them
  • resolution of over allocation and overuse
  • open water markets
A review of the NWI in 2011, while finding that much had been achieved, also called on all governments to recommit to the NWI and that they ‘must resolve to stay the course on their reform commitments’. That implies that some governments were backtracking or, at the least, not continuing to pursue the reform agenda. And in 2014, for the tenth anniversary of the agreement, the Chair of the National Water Commission was still writing:
Some important actions from the initiative remain unfinished. These will only be achieved if governments stay the course on their water reform commitments.

Although the full extent of the National Water Initiative’s aspirations is yet to be fully realised, we have a framework that 10-years on, is proven and robust.
Having made those comments, the National Water Commission was abolished in June 2015 (that was when the Act received assent although the announcement was originally made late in 2014). Its role of reviewing the implementation of the NWI was passed to the Productivity Commission. Initially water issues, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, remained with the Department of the Environment.

There is a lot of research being undertaken by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) and the CSIRO. The ABS also produces an annual ‘Water Account’ and the BoM produces annual statements of water assets and water liabilities.

So there is a lot of data out there, even if it is not always compatible, enough for governments to be making key decisions about water usage, including social and environmental considerations.

But when Turnbull became prime minister, what happened? The Nationals insisted, as part of the new coalition agreement, that water become a responsibility of the agriculture minister: the department is now the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority was transferred so that it reported to the agriculture minister. Even national sewerage agreements were transferred.

What is clear is that the Nationals see water primarily in terms of agriculture, which already uses 65% of our water. With that level of water usage in the sector, there is perhaps an argument that the minister for agriculture should have the responsibility but does it also mean that any attempts to reduce that consumption, by increasing environmental flows, will be opposed because it may be of detriment to the agricultural sector? The Murray-Darling Basin Authority takes environmental flows into consideration but it is now reporting to the agriculture minister which means its recommendations will be weighed more heavily against the water requirements of the agricultural sector rather than environmental factors.

An example of the conflicting requirements has occurred at Menindee Lakes this year. A major cotton farm, that can produce up to 70,000 bales of cotton a year, is not putting in a crop this year because it has no water. The Menindee Lakes have virtually run dry and nearby Broken Hill also has a water supply problem. Some are blaming it on a 300 gigalitre release of water early in 2013 to help the Murray River — to ‘move sediment and salt out of the system’. The Broken Hill City Council described the release as ‘excessive and unnecessary’. Locals are not convinced that the environmental benefits outweighed the economic costs. The Menindee Lakes, however, have similar problems to those mentioned by the CSIRO for northern Australia — in hot weather the large, shallow lakes can lose up to 10 gigalitres of water a day in evaporation. How will the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources evaluate those conflicting requirements in the future?

While I accept that agriculture is an important industry, I do have doubts when it uses 65% of our water to produce only a fraction of one cent’s worth of product for every litre used. Our farmers are working to become more water efficient but when rice and cotton alone use 26% of our water, we could save 5,000 gigalitres a year without them — that is enough water for two-and-a-half years of domestic usage or more than enough to increase environmental flows and maintain inland wetlands, even to provide more water for other crops. At the least, I think the size of our cotton and rice production could be reduced in acceptance that we actually live on a dry continent where trying to grow water-intensive crops is not efficient.

As urban consumers of water we are being encouraged to reduce our 9% usage but at our own cost —we pay for more efficient shower heads, dual flush toilets and water efficient washing machines — but farmers are subsidised to improve their water efficiency:
The $626 million On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program (the programme) is assisting irrigators within the southern connected system of the Murray-Darling Basin to modernise their on-farm irrigation infrastructure while returning water savings to the environment. The southern connected system for the programme encompasses the New South Wales Murray, Victorian Murray, South Australian Murray, Campaspe, Murrumbidgee, Goulburn, Broken, Loddon and the Lower Darling (south of Menindee Lakes) river catchments.
And with a Nationals minister now in charge of water resources, that looks set to continue.

It appears that the Nationals have been waging their own quiet war to overcome the ‘greenies’ and make sure that agricultural water use dominates government water policy. In my view, there is little doubt they were behind the abolition of the National Water Commission and with the election of a new Liberal leader they were handed the opportunity to complete their ‘water coup’ and gain control of national water policy.

Politicians are meant to make decisions based on balancing competing interests and when water issues were divided between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment there was an opportunity for the competing agricultural and environmental water requirements to be fully evaluated. Now, however, there appears less opportunity for those competing interests to be taken into consideration.

Water use in Australia is a vexed issue but placing control of water policy in the hands of those whose primary interest is agriculture isn’t going to help.

What do you think?
With our limited water supply, shouldn’t Australia be giving much greater consideration as to the best uses of that water? How much for agriculture? How much for the environment? — noting that maintaining the environment is also necessary to maintain agriculture, which most farmers already know. Surely governments should realise they need to balance those requirements for now and for the future.

Next week, in our penultimate piece for the year, Ken returns to his ‘Lords and Ladies’ saga and introduces a new character, Mal C’od-turn-a-bull, in ‘Lords and Ladies, a new morality tale for a new time’.

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29/11/2015Ken What a marvellous collection of facts and figures about water in this country you have assembled for us! The figures are mindboggling. You make a sound argument questioning the wisdom of cotton and rice growing in our dry continent, where the dividend for every litre spent is so low. This concern is not new. It resulted in a vigorous debate about the wisdom of the creation in the late 1970s of Cubby station in southwest Queensland near Dirranbandi, the largest irrigation property in the Southern Hemisphere, which initially was heavily into cotton growing. In an average year the station used 200,000 megalitres of water; in a good year as much as 500,000 megalitres. The sale in 2012 of Cubbie to Shandong RuYi Scientific & Technological Group Co Ltd, a clothing and textile company owned by Chinese and Japanese investors, and the Australian Lempriere Group, raised concerns among The Nationals that the sale was not in Australia’s best interests. Since 2013, a consortium, CS Agriculture, has managed Cubbie. Cubby is an exemplar of the issue of water use against the dividends. Whether it is yielding useful dividends in the context of the competition for restricted water resources will remain a bone of contention. The Nationals, headed by Barnaby Joyce, the new water minister, now have to balance the use of so much water for agriculture, especially to grow a crop that makes such heavy water demands, against the other uses of water, including environmental flows. How will he resolve this predicament? Thank you for highlighting this important issue as we begin another El Nino period.


30/11/2015Ad One difference when Cubby was first developed was that we still had a local textile industry. Now that our textile industry has all but disappeared, I assume that most of the cotton we produce is for export. (At least, some of the rice we produce is for local consumption.) I am surprised that we don't hear more from the economic Right about cotton and rice production in Australia. They go on and on about 'efficiency' in all sorts of areas but I have not heard them questioning this use of our water -- why? Are the Nationals more powerful, behind the scenes, than they appear? Economists also talk about 'comparative advantage' and 'absolute advantage' and much of that is based on the cost of production. If they applied that to the cotton industry, in particular, then I doubt it would be something that Australia has an 'advantage' in producing.


2/12/2015Turnbull has more problems than the Nationals running water policy. On top of Abbott's pronouncements from the backbench (which have been given considerable oxygen by conservatives), he now has Brough to contend with. His popularity may be sky high at the moment - but will it continue?


2/12/2015As someone who moved here from another country, I was astounded when I found out that cotton and rice were grown here, on the driest continent on the planet. All of what you say above just confirms that is just stupid and reckless use of publicly owned resources for private profit. Truly, this country has been built on crony capitalism of the worst kind and they have therefore captured control of government, no matter of which colour or stripe, the worst case being the recent government, following on from the Howard years, which saw the steady move to neoliberal macroeconomic ideology under the convenient pseudonym "economic rationalism" (which it was anything but).


3/12/2015totaram Thank you for your comment. I did try posting a reply earlier but was having trouble with my internet connection. But back again! Interesting that coming here from another country you could see the illogicality of having cotton and rice industries on a dry continent. As you say, it is largely a result of unrestrained capitalism. Many farmers recognise the need for environmental sustainability for their own survival as farmers but that tends to be the family farmers, even those fifth generation farmers with very large properties. The corporate farmers are interested only in short-term profits and bugger the environment (and the rest of us)! As my piece suggests, it makes no sense that one industry, cotton, can use almost twice as much water as the whole population uses in their homes. Over 3000 gigalitres for use to sustain the environment and support other agricultural pursuits seems to make more sense -- surely, even the Nationals may eventually see that is of benefit to other agriculturalists: perhaps we just need some other farmers to start demanding more water!


4/12/2015Ken Ad's right - you have detailed the clearest view I have ever had of world and Australian water resources. Those figures bring into stark focus the utterly finite nature of fresh water on our planet - humanity has always regarded world water resources as limitless, now we know better. I have seen a depiction of our planet with blobs of water representing all water in proportion to Earth, and also the fresh water blob, which is absolutely tiny. The blob of air is also represented, it is hardly bigger than the total water. Even more sobering is what is happening to fresh water resources around the world. Much of North America is in the greatest drought in its history. The sacred Ganges, so vital to so many, is fed by snow from the Himalayas, and that is retreating alarmingly. The story is similar in the Andes. The forces driving these changes have enormous momentum - as has the ever-increasing population pressure on water resources. Australia too is drying up, but we do have some means of mitigating the threats to our livelihoods which are not available in many other places. Efficient water collection, storage and reticulation. Many of us, especially those who have depended on rainwater, feel we need to ration our own use severely when of course our use is dwarfed by rice and especially cotton cultivation. And we had better do better in using the water in this dry continent. As you, Totaram, so clearly recognize. Oh and by the way, the new Agriculture Minister, Bananaby Joyce, according to a tweet this morning from Clive Palmhair, is going to be rolled by Tony Windsor in the coming election (Hope! Hope!) and Joyce's place may be taken by Ian "Chainsaw" Macfarlane! And Crassidy this morning said wtte This last week it's all fallen apart for Turdball's Government "like a cheap suit." Fight on Comrades. For our homeland! VENCEREMOS!


4/12/2015(Tune: Little Bo Peep) Malcolm Brough Is doing it tough & it's only gonna get tougher And as for JBish My Xmas wish Is someone'll pluck 'er & stuff 'er!

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4/12/2015Folks In case you missed Mark Zuckerberg's: [i]'A letter to our daughter'[/i], here it is: [b]A letter to our daughter MARK ZUCKERBERG·WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2015[/b] Dear Max, Your mother and I don't yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future. Your new life is full of promise, and we hope you will be happy and healthy so you can explore it fully. You've already given us a reason to reflect on the world we hope you live in. Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today. While headlines often focus on what's wrong, in many ways the world is getting better. Health is improving. Poverty is shrinking. Knowledge is growing. People are connecting. Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today. We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation. We believe all lives have equal value, and that includes the many more people who will live in future generations than live today. Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here. But right now, we don't always collectively direct our resources at the biggest opportunities and problems your generation will face. Consider disease. Today we spend about 50 times more as a society treating people who are sick than we invest in research so you won't get sick in the first place. Medicine has only been a real science for less than 100 years, and we've already seen complete cures for some diseases and good progress for others. As technology accelerates, we have a real shot at preventing, curing or managing all or most of the rest in the next 100 years. Today, most people die from five things -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, neurodegenerative and infectious diseases -- and we can make faster progress on these and other problems. Once we recognize that your generation and your children's generation may not have to suffer from disease, we collectively have a responsibility to tilt our investments a bit more towards the future to make this reality. Your mother and I want to do our part. Curing disease will take time. Over short periods of five or ten years, it may not seem like we're making much of a difference. But over the long term, seeds planted now will grow, and one day, you or your children will see what we can only imagine: a world without suffering from disease. There are so many opportunities just like this. If society focuses more of its energy on these great challenges, we will leave your generation a much better world. • • • Our hopes for your generation focus on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality. Advancing human potential is about pushing the boundaries on how great a human life can be. Can you learn and experience 100 times more than we do today? Can our generation cure disease so you live much longer and healthier lives? Can we connect the world so you have access to every idea, person and opportunity? Can we harness more clean energy so you can invent things we can't conceive of today while protecting the environment? Can we cultivate entrepreneurship so you can build any business and solve any challenge to grow peace and prosperity? Promoting equality is about making sure everyone has access to these opportunities -- regardless of the nation, families or circumstances they are born into. Our society must do this not only for justice or charity, but for the greatness of human progress. Today we are robbed of the potential so many have to offer. The only way to achieve our full potential is to channel the talents, ideas and contributions of every person in the world. Can our generation eliminate poverty and hunger? Can we provide everyone with basic healthcare? Can we build inclusive and welcoming communities? Can we nurture peaceful and understanding relationships between people of all nations? Can we truly empower everyone -- women, children, underrepresented minorities, immigrants and the unconnected? If our generation makes the right investments, the answer to each of these questions can be yes -- and hopefully within your lifetime. • • • This mission -- advancing human potential and promoting equality -- will require a new approach for all working towards these goals. We must make long term investments over 25, 50 or even 100 years. The greatest challenges require very long time horizons and cannot be solved by short term thinking. We must engage directly with the people we serve. We can't empower people if we don't understand the needs and desires of their communities. We must build technology to make change. Many institutions invest money in these challenges, but most progress comes from productivity gains through innovation. We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates. Many institutions are unwilling to do this, but progress must be supported by movements to be sustainable. We must back the strongest and most independent leaders in each field. Partnering with experts is more effective for the mission than trying to lead efforts ourselves. We must take risks today to learn lessons for tomorrow. We're early in our learning and many things we try won't work, but we'll listen and learn and keep improving. • • • Our experience with personalized learning, internet access, and community education and health has shaped our philosophy. Our generation grew up in classrooms where we all learned the same things at the same pace regardless of our interests or needs. Your generation will set goals for what you want to become -- like an engineer, health worker, writer or community leader. You'll have technology that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus. You'll advance quickly in subjects that interest you most, and get as much help as you need in your most challenging areas. You'll explore topics that aren't even offered in schools today. Your teachers will also have better tools and data to help you achieve your goals. Even better, students around the world will be able to use personalized learning tools over the internet, even if they don't live near good schools. Of course it will take more than technology to give everyone a fair start in life, but personalized learning can be one scalable way to give all children a better education and more equal opportunity. We're starting to build this technology now, and the results are already promising. Not only do students perform better on tests, but they gain the skills and confidence to learn anything they want. And this journey is just beginning. The technology and teaching will rapidly improve every year you're in school. Your mother and I have both taught students and we've seen what it takes to make this work. It will take working with the strongest leaders in education to help schools around the world adopt personalized learning. It will take engaging with communities, which is why we're starting in our San Francisco Bay Area community. It will take building new technology and trying new ideas. And it will take making mistakes and learning many lessons before achieving these goals. But once we understand the world we can create for your generation, we have a responsibility as a society to focus our investments on the future to make this reality. Together, we can do this. And when we do, personalized learning will not only help students in good schools, it will help provide more equal opportunity to anyone with an internet connection. • • • Many of the greatest opportunities for your generation will come from giving everyone access to the internet. People often think of the internet as just for entertainment or communication. But for the majority of people in the world, the internet can be a lifeline. It provides education if you don't live near a good school. It provides health information on how to avoid diseases or raise healthy children if you don't live near a doctor. It provides financial services if you don't live near a bank. It provides access to jobs and opportunities if you don't live in a good economy. The internet is so important that for every 10 people who gain internet access, about one person is lifted out of poverty and about one new job is created. Yet still more than half of the world's population -- more than 4 billion people -- don't have access to the internet. If our generation connects them, we can lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. We can also help hundreds of millions of children get an education and save millions of lives by helping people avoid disease. This is another long term effort that can be advanced by technology and partnership. It will take inventing new technology to make the internet more affordable and bring access to unconnected areas. It will take partnering with governments, non-profits and companies. It will take engaging with communities to understand what they need. Good people will have different views on the best path forward, and we will try many efforts before we succeed. But together we can succeed and create a more equal world. • • • Technology can't solve problems by itself. Building a better world starts with building strong and healthy communities. Children have the best opportunities when they can learn. And they learn best when they're healthy. Health starts early -- with loving family, good nutrition and a safe, stable environment. Children who face traumatic experiences early in life often develop less healthy minds and bodies. Studies show physical changes in brain development leading to lower cognitive ability. Your mother is a doctor and educator, and she has seen this firsthand. If you have an unhealthy childhood, it's difficult to reach your full potential. If you have to wonder whether you'll have food or rent, or worry about abuse or crime, then it's difficult to reach your full potential. If you fear you'll go to prison rather than college because of the color of your skin, or that your family will be deported because of your legal status, or that you may be a victim of violence because of your religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, then it's difficult to reach your full potential. We need institutions that understand these issues are all connected. That's the philosophy of the new type of school your mother is building. By partnering with schools, health centers, parent groups and local governments, and by ensuring all children are well fed and cared for starting young, we can start to treat these inequities as connected. Only then can we collectively start to give everyone an equal opportunity. It will take many years to fully develop this model. But it's another example of how advancing human potential and promoting equality are tightly linked. If we want either, we must first build inclusive and healthy communities. • • • For your generation to live in a better world, there is so much more our generation can do. Today your mother and I are committing to spend our lives doing our small part to help solve these challenges. I will continue to serve as Facebook's CEO for many, many years to come, but these issues are too important to wait until you or we are older to begin this work. By starting at a young age, we hope to see compounding benefits throughout our lives. As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities. We will give 99% of our Facebook shares -- currently about $45 billion -- during our lives to advance this mission. We know this is a small contribution compared to all the resources and talents of those already working on these issues. But we want to do what we can, working alongside many others. We'll share more details in the coming months once we settle into our new family rhythm and return from our maternity and paternity leaves. We understand you'll have many questions about why and how we're doing this. As we become parents and enter this next chapter of our lives, we want to share our deep appreciation for everyone who makes this possible. We can do this work only because we have a strong global community behind us. Building Facebook has created resources to improve the world for the next generation. Every member of the Facebook community is playing a part in this work. We can make progress towards these opportunities only by standing on the shoulders of experts -- our mentors, partners and many incredible people whose contributions built these fields. And we can only focus on serving this community and this mission because we are surrounded by loving family, supportive friends and amazing colleagues. We hope you will have such deep and inspiring relationships in your life too. Max, we love you and feel a great responsibility to leave the world a better place for you and all children. We wish you a life filled with the same love, hope and joy you give us. We can't wait to see what you bring to this world. Love, Mom and Dad


4/12/2015Talk Turkey Thank you. Glad you were able to understand all my figures and that they actually helped clarify the situation. We are 'wasting' a lot of water on crops like cotton and rice that other countries, with more reliable rainfall, can produce more readily. As you say, relying on rainwater tanks certainly makes one aware of the variable nature of our water resources. In a sense, our dams are just massive rainwater tanks and, like a farm or domestic tank, are reliant on rain (and associated river flows). It is the same principle just scaled up and governments should be more aware of that.


4/12/2015Ad Interesting letter from Zuckerberg but not outstanding. Personalised teaching has been a concept I've been aware of since late in the 1960s. A simple example was to take, for instance, a boy's interest in model planes. Building on that a teacher can introduce him to the physics and mathematics of flight, the history of flight, the engineering of aircraft and how that developed, to modern computer flight and even the use of flight and aircraft in literature. Thus using an interest to expand it into many areas of the curriculum. It wasn't able to be done at the time because it really relies on one-to-one teaching. As Zuckerberg suggests, the internet may help achieve that goal but it still requires a teacher overseeing the computer learning and helping lead the student into new areas. As with so many aspects of computer technology, it often requires more people being involved (although in new ways). If it is to work, governments will need to have the funding to support more teachers and technical support staff.


4/12/2015Thanks Ad for posting Zuckerberg's letter to his daughter , And Ken, Yes it is a pretty 'ordinary' letter - (slightly pejorative sense) - but of course it's written by one of the richest men on the planet, and he's giving away (is he?) a great proportion of that wealth for what he sees as Good Works. That does make the ordinary pretty extraordinary eh. But It seem to me that his is a completely unrealistic view of the future. I am reminded of a line of Orwell's 1984 which stuck in my head – the Party's line of a future "glittering antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete" – which Eric Blair had already, by 1947, seen to be a mirage. Zuckerberg mentions 'environment' just once if I'm right, and then he means the economic environment not the planetary one. He doesn't mention concern with burgeoning population, diminishing returns, extinctions and shortages, and he doesn't say what we will enjoy as we grow ever more ancient and watch everything getting worse not better ... and that, why we will want to live in an overcrowded under-resourced world where the last Pandas and Platypus are being used for food, seems to me the real problem. Oh I could go on a lot but I will say this, Zuckerberg's a lot more decent person than Gina. Good on him, I guess.


5/12/2015Talk Turkey Yes, it's interesting that people like Zuckerberg and Gates are giving away (or promising to give away) billions of dollars in 'good works'. Unfortunately, that sort of philanthropy is common among the wealthy in America but not in Australia. I may reconsider my radicalism and views when Gina gives away her billions -- but I won't hold my breath.


6/12/2015I found the piece on water quite informative. It was interesting that you've said that Menindee Lakes evaporates 10 gl per day. That mightn't sound much until you realise that the lakes evaporate half their volume every year. The Lakes are shallow about 6 metres deep and rely on rainfall and flood events from the upper catchment. Nearly all the rivers that drain into the Darling in NSW are regulated, the Paroo and Castlereagh (I think) being the only two that aren't. If none of the rain from Cyclones make their way into the Queensland Rivers to the Darling then the water doesn't make its way into the lakes. Some years ago a water pipeline from the Murray was built towards the Lakes. It was proposed to feed the lakes ensuring that Broken Hills water supply would be secure. My understanding is the Howard government didn't see the cost benefit in doing that so this pipeline effectively supplies water for domestic stock etc to about a dozen stations. Now we see the water supply down to little more than the channels within the storages with bores being sunk to supply Broken Hill with its water. It should be noted that once Menindee Lakes storage reaches a certain level that the water in the Storages becomes South Australia's water. The water provides Menindee and Broken Hill with water for domestic use but its primary role is for irrigation.


6/12/2015Algernon Thank you for your comment and glad you found the piece informative. I seem to recall you have commented in the past, but not for some time. Feel free to come back and make comments whenever you wish. Large, shallow lakes are very inefficient water storages in our climate (Lake Argyle on the Ord is another example). The drought in western Qld is certainly affecting water flows into the Darling and the Menindee Lakes. As you say, we need the rain depressions from cyclones this coming season to move into inland Qld. I haven't been Menindee way for years but (long ago) when I did visit, many of the properties used flood irrigation. One property I visited had the graders and sruveyors in (using lasers for precise measurement) to create the right gradient across their fields for the water to flow through at the required speed. I'm not an expert, but I imagine flood irrigation is also inefficient because to allow water to flow across the entire field would have to take account of the evaporation that will occur, meaning much more water has to be used. I hope they have improved their techniques since then but I wouldn't count on it.
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?