Adapting to water scarcity is a critical issue for many cities around the world as they respond to the influences of population growth, urbanisation and climate change. There is increasing recognition that geographic context has an impact on experiences of and approaches to domestic water use, but research comparing urban environments is scarce. This paper describes different domestic water cultures after the Millennium drought in three Australian cities—Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. All three cities have experienced drought, or severe water shortages, over the past 15 years, and each city has responded differently. The experience of water scarcity and water restrictions imposed by governments impacted on people’s everyday lives in varied and profound ways. Drawing on quantitative data from a national survey (n = 5194) and qualitative data from focus groups, we found that a sense of water crisis led to household water conservation in Brisbane and Melbourne. In contrast, access to alternative water sources in Perth through desalination plants and household bores de-emphasised personal responses to household water conservation. The implications are that urban specific policies and interventions are needed to provide durable change in domestic water cultures. We argue that greater water sensitivity and responsiveness to water availability should be promoted in different urban centres, and that water supply solutions should be accompanied by initiatives that promote adoption of sustainable water practices and future resilience.

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Last updated: 28th Oct 2016