Forecasting supply and demand is fundamental to the sustainability of the water system. Demand for urban water seems on an ever-upward trajectory, with use increasing twice as quickly as population throughout the 20th century. However, data from Ballarat, a city in south-eastern Australia, show that despite this conventionally held wisdom, total water usage actually peaked over 30 years ago. While the 1997–2009 Millennium Drought’ had some effect, the decline commenced many years before. Initially, this was due to a reduction in external domestic water use, which correlates well with an increase in water price. However, the effect was found to not be purely economic as the price was not volumetric-based. Internal water use seems more affected by technological advances and regulatory controls. Interestingly, there was no relationship found between rainfall and water demand. The role of price, water-reduction education programmes, water-efficient technology and regulation supports previous research that a multifaceted approach is required when developing demand-reduction policies and strategies. This finding emphasises the importance of understanding the component of consumptive behaviour being targeted, and ensuring that policies being implemented are appropriate for the desired behavioural change.

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