Who are the ones to
Pittwater’s offshore residents won’t need telling that
this autumn was Sydney’s wettest in over 160 years.
Besides the mud, one of the least attractive results of
months of unrelenting rain was extensive damage to our
roads and pathways, particularly on Scotland Island. None
of us could stop the rain. But could we have done more to
reduce the problems it caused?
SIRA, Scotland Island's residents ' association, operates
a reticulated water system, which pipes city water across
to the island from Church Point. When it comes to meeting
their water needs, most island residents fall into one of
three categories. First there are those who, like myself,
never buy water from SIRA. Instead they depend entirely on
rainwater collected from their roofs. Then there are
residents who never collect and rely solely on SIRA water.
Finally, there are households who collect rainwater when
they can and then top up their tanks with bought water as
the need arises.
If you want to remain popular on the island, be careful
what you say about buying SIRA water: a number of
residents seem to see it as indicating a lack of moral
fibre. Others will rush to point out that for some
rainwater collection simply isn't an option. That's true.
But I've never been one to readily relinquish moral high
ground for the sake of mere facts, So I set about looking
into whether we can blame all those aberrant
non-collectors for the state of our roads. And what I
found out surprised me.
Apparently SIRA brings enough water onto Scotland Island
to fill more than seven Olympic pools each year. Imagine
seven Olympic pools, dotted around the island, all being
refilled once a year and, more to the point, all being
emptied out with equal regularity. That's a lot of water,
especially if it's left to run down our roads into
Pittwater, gouging out channels along the way.
SIRA claims to sell 'emergency' water, which implies that
it is meant to supplement rainwater collection. What tends
to rankle is the view, often voiced by longer-term
residents, that islanders are starting to see SIRA water
less in terms of supplementation and more in terms of
substitution. In other words, residents are buying water
instead of collecting rainfall.
The question of supplementation versus substitution is
important not only to those who enjoy a spot of moral
grandstanding. It's also relevant to deciding the more
serious question of whether changes in consumer behaviour
could add to or ameliorate various problems facing the
island, only one of which is surface erosion.
Imagine that buying SIRA water is purely a matter of
supplementation. In other words, everyone collects as much
rainfall as they possibly can, and only use SIRA water to
top up their tanks. Assuming that the availability of SIRA
water can actually add to our woes (we'll come back to
that question in a moment), the extent to which it does so
would have to be relatively small. That's because during
times of heavy rainfall SIRA sales would drop, meaning
that the overall amount of water coming onto the island
would be relatively constant. More rain, less SIRA water.
Less rain, more SIRA water.
But imagine now that buying SIRA water is entirely a
matter of substitution: people buy water regardless of the
weather. During periods of heavy rainfall the level of
SIRA water usage would be maintained and things would
really get wet.
The issue of supplementation versus substitution is also
relevant in terms of how SIRA sets its prices. SIRA
doesn't want to profiteer from water sales, but neither
can it make a loss. According to a substitution model,
there may an argument for introducing a fluctuating spot
price, charging more during wet periods to encourage
rainwater collection. If water purchasing is a matter of
supplementation then such a practice would be
SIRA's pricing policy suggests that it envisages
considerable supplementation. That means that predictions
have to be made about future rainfall: the more it rains,
the less water will be sold. For the forthcoming financial
year, SIRA is assuming that its sales will be similar to
those during each of the last two financial years. And so
SIRA is keeping its price at $5 per kilolitre, the price
first set in 2016.
Boyd Attewell, SIRA’s accountant, has been tracking
rainfall and water sales for the last seven years. His
figures reveal that there is indeed a considerable degree
Graph 1 charts annual rainfall against sales of water by
SIRA. Out of the last seven financial years, 2017/18 was
the driest and, not particularly surprisingly, there was a
corresponding spike in water sales.
But that's not the full picture. Even though subsequent
years have been wetter, water sales have remained
relatively high. Indeed, more water was sold during either
of the two most recent financial years than was sold in
either of the financial years ending 2016 or 2017. That’s
despite the fact that rainfall has been trending upwards.
This suggests that when it’s dry people buy water. Then,
when it rains, they still buy water. That's substitution.
Monthly sales for the financial year 2020/21 bear this
out, as shown in Graph 2. Rainfall peaked in the autumn.
And, admittedly, there was a corresponding drop in water
But the two are way out of kilter. Even though March
precipitation was almost four times higher than the
average for the preceding eight months, sales dropped by
barely a third.
So what about the latest financial year, the one with the
wettest autumn on record? On a supplementation model you
would expect SIRA water sales to be close to zero. But not
Have a look at Graph 3. Compared to the 2020/21 year, the
drop in SIRA sales during the wettest month, relative to
the average for the preceding eight months, was even
smaller. If residents weren't tempted to collect rainwater
in March 2022, when will they ever?
What emerges is a mixed picture. To a considerable degree
the purchase of water is a matter of supplementation. All
the same, there seems to be a trend towards using SIRA
water even when there is plentiful rainfall. After the
wettest autumn on record that becomes all the more
So, where does that leave us in terms of denigrating all
that transgressive water substitution? In a typical year,
SIRA pipes over 18 million litres of water onto the
island. Surely that's not good. But Boyd is keen for us to
keep a sense of proportion. ‘What SIRA sells is a mere
fraction of the total water that arrives on the island
direct from the sky, even in dry years', says Boyd. 'It's
really hard to imagine, but rainfall is a force of nature,
while our human interventions are puny.'
It's true. In recent years the island has received, on
average, around 1.2 metres of rainfall per annum. That's
enough to fill 264 Olympic pools. Of all the water that
reaches the island in a typical year, only about 3%
arrives through SIRA's pipeline.
Can I at least have the moral satisfaction of blaming
those who buy water for 3% of our road erosion? Probably
not. For a start, during the 2021/22 financial year nature
dumped on us enough to fill 440 Olympic pools, so SIRA's
contribution was even smaller. What's more, separating out
the effects of rainfall from those of bought water would
be extremely difficult, to say the least.
inspects recent road erosion on Scotland
Island. Photos courtesy of Shane O'Neill,
Bear in mind that SIRA water reaches the island at a
steady flow and then, having been stored in water tanks,
is released by households into the environment at a fairly
consistent rate. Rainfall, on the other hand, tends to be
more concentrated, such as when we are deluged by a storm.
We all know that it's the periods of heavy rain that cause
the most road damage.
But surely the more you fill your tanks with rainfall
during storms, the less water is available to immediately
run off into Pittwater, taking our roads with it? I would
have thought that, even during a downpour, some water
would soak into the soil, and that ground that's already
sodden with household discharge will capture less surface
But, according to hydrologist and island resident Fabienne
d'Hautefeuille, that's not necessarily true. The ability
of soil to absorb water depends on factors such as dryness
and saturation ratios. 'For the hydrologist, some of the
worst floods are when soils are super dry and cannot
absorb any deluge'. The problem, it seems, is that dry
soils can be too compacted to allow for infiltration. That
brings into question the initial supposition that more
water means greater problems. My high horse is starting to
Bear in mind, though, that in terms of water usage there's
a lot more than surface erosion to consider. There are
also the effects of water collection, storage and disposal
on island flora and fauna, including those dratted
mosquitoes. Fortunately, in my experience, islanders tend
to have a relatively sophisticated understanding of the
arguments surrounding water and sewage. The merits of
buying and collecting water, as well as the advantages and
disadvantages of introducing mains water to the island,
have been widely canvassed over the last few years.
We should be slow to point the finger of blame at those
who buy water, rather than collect what falls from the
heavens. Still, in the aftermath of the wettest period in
living memory, it’s worth noting that SIRA water sales
have barely dropped. That, I think, tells us something
Thanks go to Boyd Attewell, Fabienne d'Hautefeuille and
Tim Turpin for their help in writing this article. Any
resident concerned about the quality of their water might
be interested in a recent article published by the West
Pittwater Community Association: click here.
A year ago, in the June 2021 edition of the PON, I asked
if anyone was interested in forming a playgroup for
parents, grandparents and their little ones, to meet in
the old kindy hall, playground and park. A few people
expressed interest and we met in the park several times.
And then there was lockdown … and then it dragged on ...
and then it was Christmas … and then it rained … and
Hey, the kindy playground is still there, aching for
little children to enjoy it. The rain is easing and I’m
now minding my two-year-old grandson.
Who else would like to play and chat together? If there’s
enough interest, we can book the hall to have inside space
and some simple play and craft activity. Or just use the
playground and park? For starters, I suggest Tuesday
morning 9-11 am each fortnight, or even once a month. Or
If this sparks any interest, please email me at email@example.com.
Scotland Island Recreation
Most Saturdays throughout
2 - 3 pm: Introduction to
3 - 5 pm: Table Tennis
Groups meet most Saturdays
and anyone over 12 is welcome. Sessions are supported by
the Scotland Island Recreation Club.
Play from 2 - 3 pm is
intended primarily for those new to table tennis. The
session from 3 - 5 pm is open to everyone, regardless of
your standard of play.
Sessions do not run every Saturday. If you are interested
in taking part then it's best to join the table tennis
WhatsApp group to receive up-to-date information on who is
playing. If you would like to join the group, please email
Alternatively, you can just turn up and take your chances.
Adult players are asked to contribute $5 per player per
attendance to defray expenses.
Scotland Island Fire
Saturday 2 July, 7 pm
To book your tickets,
Catherine Park, Scotland
Sunday 24 July, 10 - 12
Scotland Island Recreation
Tuesday 26 July, 11 am -
The Recreation Club runs a discussion group, meeting on
the last Tuesday of each month, from 11 am to 12.30 pm
in the Recreation Centre. Everyone is welcome.
Members take it in turn to design a session, choosing
material for discussion. This can consist of essays,
articles or podcasts, or a combination of all three. The
idea is that group members shouldn't be committed to
more than a few hours' preparation in terms of listening
or reading. The idea is to be open to a wide range of
topics and material.
In June Jane Rich led a discussion on travel and
tourism, asking whether they can ever give us what we
are looking for.
For the June
meeting, Michael Doherty will be asking whether the
recently introduced prohibition on climbing Uluru
should continue, and whether a similar ban should be
applied to other landmarks.
Reading: 'A Guide to Climbing Ayers Rock by Marc
The group operates via a WhatsApp group, which will be
used to distribute further information about this and
If you would like to be added to the group, please
provide your mobile phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (email@example.com) for more
information or to express your interest in
Scotland Island Community
Saturday 30 July, 7 - 9 pm
The Recreation Club
asks for $5 per person per attendance to defray
Sunday 14 August, 9:30 am
- 4:30 pm
qualified, educated caregiver with local references
available on Scotland Island and surrounding bays. High
needs and disability catered for. Experience with mental
health and disabilities. Qualified AIN and counsellor.
Flexible with hours.
I moved to Scotland Island about 18 months I was a
caregiver for many years and want to see if there’s any
need for caregiving on the island or bays.
0407 877 245
Missed out on a previous
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please send an e-mail to the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Festival of Making,
expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily the
views of the Scotland Island Residents Association
(SIRA), or the Western Pittwater Community