Craig Miller, KQED SCIENCE
Three years into a historic drought, we’re hearing a lot of talk about resilience in California. For inspiration, Californians might do well to look south — all the way to Australia.
“We had here a phenomenon that people called ‘bucket back,’” says Rebecca Nelson, describing the back strain Aussies would suffer from catching the excess shower water in buckets and hauling it outside to water the garden. Nelson is a research fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment. She lives in Australia, which recently endured a nine-year drought — something that hasn’t happened in California for at least a century. (There were two six-year droughts in the 20th century.)
Bucket back was the least of it. The stretch that came to be known as the Big Dry was the worst drought in Australia’s history. During the first decade of this century, it devastated the farm economy (at one point halving the number of sheep, the nation’s principal livestock) and triggered severe restrictions on urban water use. But Nelson says it also transformed the water culture in that country. She says some ways they found to adapt were relatively painless — and much of it stuck.