Australian Fair Food Forum

Water and food sovereignty

These notes were taken from a group discussion session at the Food Sovereignty Convergence in Canberra, 23/24 November 2017.


  • Use of recycled water. Currently 6% of Melbourne recycled water used for agriculture
  • Issues: salinity, cost ($ and energy) of filtration
  • Infrastructure: treatment costs, pipelines to agricultural areas, storage
  • Water not a tool!
  • Housing near water bodies, increase land values but decrease water quality and social qualities
  • Community engagement with river systems
  • Water filtration for clean urban water are human created, no ecological water protection measures
  • Agriculture and water scarcity: permaculture design for best water use
  • Soil health to capture water, soil carbon, ground cover
  • Hydrogeology for salinity management
  • Use of local knowledge for ecological water management
  • Urban agriculture: cities have the best land for growing and the most access to blue, grey and black water.
  • Use of grey water for flushing? Do we really need to use water for flushing toilets? Regulation and policy for better use of black water
  • Water has memory, we all have the power to change water by thanking and loving and respecting it- Masaru Emoto (Japanese author)
  • Use of songlines and water stories from Traditional Owners to help engage with water from another perspective
  • Water footprinting, embodied water, acknowledging the water used to produce a food or product
  • Difficult as we are so lucky to have clean water and take it for granted
  • Water cleaning by agricultural landscapes as an indicator of PGS or other accreditation scheme
  • More drinking fountains, ‘ban the bottle’
  • 3 minute showers or less!
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Sounds like an interesting discussion! A couple of points that spring to my mind when reading the above:

It’s worth noting the cause of salinity in recycled water. Recycled water coming out of Melbourne west is more saline than the water coming out of Melbourne’s east, and this is partly due to the type of industrial inputs over on the west side.

In terms of treatment costs, there’s a huge amount of surplus Class A water that currently doesn’t get used for anything, so that cost at least is already being covered as part of processing waste and stormwater. The storage and infrastructure costs… definitely another matter!

And I’d question whether urban agriculture is the solution in terms of connecting good land and water access. It certainly plays a role, and rainwater capture for urban ag and to prevent the creation of excessive stormwater is really important, but most water is currently treated in peri-urban areas where there is even more good land for farming! So I think that’s an even more important relationship to support.

For anyone interested in how this plays out in Melbourne, you might enjoy the findings of one of the research projects I (and a few others here) worked on, the Foodprint Melbourne project: and some of the reports at

Up here in Stanley Victoria we’re in a David and Goliath battle over the extraction of groundwater for bottling in plastic by beverage giant Asahi.
The Stanley community has no town water supply and no river, so all our water is from collected rainwater or from bores. On the one hand we have agriculturalists up here on the Stanley plateau being rationed by Goulburn Murray Water, while on the other every day we watch as B-double trucks are carting that same precious water through small rural roads and small communities reliant on that very water. Despite fighting this to the Supreme Court and losing (our community organisation SRCI is now slammed with $90,000 court costs) other water miners are now applying for similar access to this groundwater resource.
The local agriculturalists including Chestnut orchardists , apple berry and other producers whose produce earns billions for the local economy are at a loss how to protect their industry from this insidious theft!
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