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Recent rains have done little to improve California's water situation -- take it from an Aussie.

By Patrick Whyte. January 4, 2009 in the LA Times

That rain you've been having? It doesn't really help much. California is still in the midst of a serious drought. We Australians can empathize -- and we can also offer some advice.

Last year, the southeast corner of the northern Australian state of Queensland, where I live, entered its 10th year of drought -- officially the worst period on record. Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth, but until recently that was never a huge problem for the 90% of us who live in coastal cities and towns. We'd always thought of dry spells as the farmers' problem.

But as the recent drought dragged on, fruit and vegetable prices began to rise. Then public parks went from green to brown. Finally, even city folk began to talk about drought......

Officials developed a relatively cheap social marketing campaign, with the aim of getting people to think about individual water use. Ads promoted simple things, such as taking four-minute showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth.

Crucially, the program set targets, and for the first time put gallon figures on the amount of water used in car washing, toilet flushing and other activities.

Before the drought and Target 140, as the program was called, my wife, two sons (ages 8 and 11) and I routinely wasted water. Our faucets dripped, our sprinklers ran, we washed our cars and hosed our driveway without a second thought.

Now the radio was awash with talk of water and how to conserve it. Reservoir levels became the subject of everyday conversation.

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Patrick Whyte is a freelance journalist in Brisbane, Australia.