While most parts of eastern Australia have finally enjoyed good soaking rain, we all know future droughts are not just likely - they're a certainty.

Water has always been precious on this dry continent. It's life or death for crops, stock and livelihoods.

So to hear some powerful people in Canberra talking up super-thirsty coal and other fossil fuels as the industries to boost Australia's post-coronavirus economy really concerns me.

It's no surprise the big fossil fuel companies are trying to exploit the Covid-19 crisis to demand law changes so they can dig more, frack more and ship more - poisoning the land for agriculture and nature. But when our politicians listen to them, we have a serious problem.

Our land is like a body. When we are run down and exhausted, that's when sickness knocks us for six. The same is true for nature, climate and our communities.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt recently said mining projects should be prioritised to support economic regrowth. And Angus Taylor, the Energy Minister said the government was looking to invest in gas projects.

Providing public support and money to prop up the fossil fuel industry would be a colossal mistake. And not just because it's among the biggest contributors to climate change.

As many farming communities across Australia know, coal is a huge water guzzler.

Just how big is revealed in a new report, just released by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The research shows coal mines and coal-fired power stations in NSW and Queensland consume 383 billion litres of water every year.

That's as much as the annual domestic water use of 5.2 million Australians, or every household in Queensland.

Astonishingly, there is a lack of standardised reporting for the industry, meaning the true numbers could be even higher.

The coal industry uses this water for dust suppression, processing and handling coal, vehicle washing, and for cooling at power stations.

In the Namoi Valley in NSW the community has watched the Maules Creek coal mine outbidding local farmers for groundwater licences, buying out farms just to secure the water licences, building pipelines, putting down new bores and even trucking water from other sites to meet the needs of its thirsty mine.

Farmers and graziers in the Galilee Basin in Queensland worry about how much water would be taken by Adani's Carmichael and GVK Hancock's proposed Alpha and Kevin's Corner coal mines. Those landholders rely on the Great Artesian Basin. They are seriously worried about what new coal mines will mean for their survival.

It's a similar story for farmers on the Northern Darling Downs in Queensland where the Acland coal mine uses a 5,500 gigalitre pipeline to supply recycled surface water and also has plans to draw down the underground aquifers for up to 300 years.

On this, the world's driest inhabited continent, we cannot afford to have our precious water used to water down dust and wash coal.

Last summer's record bushfires brutally exposed how vulnerable our land has already become to the impacts of climate change. People lost their homes, their crops, their income.

And things will only get worse if countries like Australia do not take the risks posed by climate change seriously and work harder to drive down our climate pollution.

The debate has already begun about the shape of a national economic recovery: will it help build resilience so our kids and grandkids can better weather future shocks? Will it invest in local communities, local jobs, and local solutions that help rural communities?

Or will we throw a lifeline to the tired industries of the past, like the polluting coal industry that is already in decline, harming our environment and sucking water from a parched land?

Our land is like a body. When we are run down and exhausted, that's when sickness knocks us for six. The same is true for nature, climate and our communities.

We can reduce future risks to our health and the economy by cutting climate pollution and protecting the natural resources we have left. Now is the time to make the case for a better, healthier and more resilient Australia.

In this better country governments will set clear directions for regeneration; for the reduction of climate pollution and uptake of clean, renewable energy.

We must care for the air we breathe, the people and places we love - and the water that sustains us all.

Paul Sinclair is campaigns director at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

This piece was published in the Canberra Times and other Australian Community Media titles.

Paul Sinclair

Campaigns Director at the Australian Conservation Foundation.