Criminological Approaches to Residential Water-Restrictions: A 'Sensitising Perspective'

Article excerpt

In many areas throughout Australia, water use is of prime concern and its management requires a complex grasp of a number of inter-related features. This article reflects upon Australian residential water restrictions in a criminological light. By underemphasising the ecologic and environmental impacts associated with breaches of residential water restriction schemes, the relevant harms are trivialised in scope and provide only a thin understanding of both the harm at issue and the underlying conditions which underpin the restrictions. Such regulatory frameworks operate to (1) frame the harm at issue in overly anthropomorphic terms as well as (2) concentrate on the instrumental impact of water-restrictions rather than providing a multi-dimensional understanding of those harms associated with breaching residential use. In light of such issues, this article discusses what is gained by viewing aspects of excessive water-use in terms of environmental harm.

The lavish use of water for residential purposes is eroding in the developed world, particularly here in Australia. Population explosions, irregular rainfall, lowering water-tables, changing weather patterns, the associated prospect of climate change and a range of other related issues make for haunting scenarios over dangerously low reservoirs and future water supply (Cullen 2005). In the main, such scarcities can no longer be ignored without placing at risk basic quality of life issues for future populations. In framing the Australian response, the perceived severity and scope of securing water for residential, commercial and industrial use is a problem requiring sustained regional solutions. These proposed solutions take account of increased internal water demands, shifting demographics underpinning urban planning, the effect of water-use on the economy and, of course, the impact on the ecologic health of the wider Australian landscape.

A significant re-think on water supply has been one of the main policy initiatives, with the Coalition of Australian Government's National Water Initiative (NWI) of 2004 reflecting the broad principles upon which issues of water are to be dealt with. One plank of the NWI is that environmental harm is created by not returning environmental flows to waterways and rivers (NWI 2004). Yet with growing urban populations, the demand for residential water has proportionately increased even with the present and future concerns of water scarcity. One common response has been to effect water restrictions. This article explores residential water restrictions in Australia, drawing broadly upon the criminological literature (See Halsey 1997a; Situ and Emmons 2000; Lynch and Stretsky 2003; Beirne and South 2007; White 2003; White 2005). I will argue that the harms which surface in breaches of residential water-restrictions across Australia are dominated by anthropomorphic concerns and a broader emphasis on ecologie health would be of benefit.

Regulating water-use raises issues for federal, state and local governments, the range of industries and commercial enterprises that rely upon infrastructures of water, as well as residential users' access to water. Schemes to restrict water-use are only one plank of a larger platform of reforms to address the expanding scope of the water problem; future water allocation, water infrastructures, supply and pricing issues are also relevant.

Residential water-restriction schemes are presided over by local government unless otherwise overridden by state governments. These bodies are able to account for the variables of rainfall, population density, weather patterns, local hydro-geologic conditions, water management infrastructures, as well as sensitively respond to the handling of current and future residential, industrial and commercial water-use and demand. Consequently, while remaining a complex governance issue with regional and national waterpriorities at stake, local water authorities are positioned to make informed decisions about the quality and type of restrictions imposed on residential users. …