If 2006 goes down as the year that climate change hit the front pages and never really left, then 2007 is set to be the year of water. Water – or the lack of it – dominated November’s Victorian state election. It seems set to be a key issue in the March NSW poll and the federal election.

But that’s not to say this issue is owned by politicians – it drips all the way down to ground level. Crikey has been inundated with comments in response to yesterday’s story on the rise of neighbourhood water wars (Item 3). Rural communities have been screaming about the drought for years, and finally water in the city has hit home where it hurts – in the garden and down the street where the oaks are dying fast.

Forget Water Wally campaigns. This is serious stuff. Gripes about the neighbours have graduated from the evils of hosing down the driveway to concerns about infrastructure, the environment, urban water shortages, water trading, overallocation and accounting, concerns that are filtering across the nation on a domestic, state and federal level.

The real test for the political stars of this year’s hot issue, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister with responsibility for water policy Malcolm Turnbull and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Environment Peter Garrett, is how hard they listen to the talk in neighbourhood streets and tinder-dry paddocks. This battle starts over the backyard fence – just without the hose fight.

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