“Margaret Norriss is living in fear,” the Sunday Age kicked off a story last weekend. Sudanese gangs? Nah! Just the Green Gestapo.

“The retired teacher is so scared of the emergence of water vigilantes that she doesn’t dare hose her front garden, even though she has been using a rainwater tank for the past nine years,” the article continued.

“The whole thing is turning the community against one another,” she said.

They also had a quote from Monash University academic David Dunstan.

“I think it is most unhealthy and potentially dangerous,” he said. “The Government is encouraging neighbour to spy on neighbour and dob them in. Rather than appealing directly to people to save water, they are now saying your neighbour is your policeman and we will provide the stick to support them.”

Victoria’s Deputy Premier and Water Minister John Thwaites suggested people using recycled water or their own supplies hang home-made signs in their yards.

At least he has some ideas, unlike his hapless South Australian counterpart Michael Wright, who was dobbed in by his own neighbour for leaving a sprinkler running overnight.

SA Water is understood to have issued a warning notice to the minister – but will not confirm that because of privacy regulations.

Wright’s lucky he doesn’t live in the ACT. The Canberra Times reports that water utility, Actew, has doubled the size of its water conservation team since Stage3 restrictions were introduced on December 16. Its officers will be photographing homes and businesses, and where necessary entering backyards to turn off sprinklers and hoses.

So, what have we got? We’ve got a diminution of social capital, thanks to hysteria whipped up by governments and Henny Penny environmentalists.

Yes, we’ve also got drought – but don’t let that excuse get governments off the hook. Dry seasons and apocalyptic greenies have given them a perfect cop-out. Talk to anyone who’s worked for the relevant state ministers. The water infrastructure in our capital cities is crumbling.

Water restrictions are a blessing. Less water going through the system means less pressure on ageing pipes. State governments can fund more important priorities – like buying off public sector unions – while hiding behind a coat of greenwash.

The states are trying all sorts of wheezes. In NSW, they’ve reduced water pressure across Sydney. Which means, of course, that the sprinkler systems in some of the city’s biggest buildings no longer work properly.

So, if you’re trapped by a fire, yes, you’re going to die – but you’ll be doing your bit for the environment. And saving the state government a quid or two.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey