3Our Campaigns 2Healthy Rivers & Nature 1About Healthy Rivers 0Why are our rivers in trouble? Rivers and population growth

Rivers and population growth

Greater Melbourne is adding more people each year than any other city in Australia. In 2014/15 the city’s population grew by a staggering 91,600 to a total of 4,530,000 people.1

This growth will likely continue. According to state government predictions,10 million people will be calling Melbourne home in the 2050s.2

This population growth is having a dramatic effect on water consumption, which is currently well above the recent average. The government has reintroduced the Target 155 campaign to reduce household use to 155 litres/person/day. Assuming the campaign is successful and Melbourne’s residents achieve Target 155, the extra 91,600 people added in 2013/14 would still have boosted Melbourne’s water demand by over 5 billion litres (GL) per year. This rate of growth in demand is only going to accelerate as the number of people increases.

Household demand is just part of the story. Recent research by Foodprint Melbourne has found that it takes more than 475 litres of water/person/day to grow food for the city’s residents.3 That’s a total of 758 GL per year, more than three times household consumption. So the impact of population growth on water demand is even greater than household use suggests – those 97,000 people need an extra 16.5 GL of water to grow their food every year.

When household use and water required to grow food are combined, the impact of population growth on water demand is huge – Melbourne will require at least an extra 21 GL per year every year for the foreseeable future. That’s a minimum of 735 GL by 2051 – the equivalent of five more Wonthaggi-sized desalination plants!

A further exacerbating factor is that world water use is growing at a faster rate than world population growth (Figure 4). Per capita usage is rising as consumption patterns change and world population becomes increasingly urbanised and dependent on irrigation for food and fibre production.

Any long-term plan for sustainable water use and healthy rivers will need to address population issues. The current paradigm of continuous growth is unsustainable and is causing serious depletion of the natural capital on which all our social and economic capital depends. This is a complex and multifaceted problem, beyond the scope of this report, but our community consultation showed deep and consistent concern about the issue and it cannot be ignored.

This page was last updated 1 September 2016.

1Australian Bureau of Statistics,  Regional Population Growth 2014/15

2 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-15/melbourne-double-in-size-as-victorias-population-10million/7632700