Melbourne's Future Water report “some great ideas: but we still don't need the desal plant or pipeline

Today's release of the Report into Melbourne's Future Water Supply shows a depth of analysis that must give hope to people concerned about sustainable water policy.

Media release June 2, 2009
Friends of the Earth

Melbourne's Future Water report – some great ideas: but we still don't need the desal plant or pipeline

Today's release of the Report into Melbourne's Future Water Supply shows a depth of analysis that must give hope to people concerned about sustainable water policy.

“Many of the measures proposed are both common sense and sound policy, and if implemented would be a significant step towards a more sustainable water future” said Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker. “The report notes that Melbourne's water supply system is currently  'once through ' - we use and discard, and that we need better options in the 21st century. Key elements of this must be improved water efficiency measures, much better re-use of all our water (as opposed to discharge at Gunnamatta outfall) and continuous community education around water. While the targets for recycling are not ambitious enough (70% by 2015) the emphasis on water conservation as the top priority for our water management gives hope when we consider the current reliance on creating 'new' water through  incredibly expensive and damaging mega projects like the desalination plant and North South pipeline.

Other positive elements of the report include:

*     proposal for delivery of the environmental flow promised in the Central Region Sustainable Water Strategy Water Resource commitments as a matter of priority
*     ruling out construction of any new dams
*     ensuring water consumption charges reflect full environmental and social costs of delivering the water
*     a reassessment of options to harvest and use stormwater
*     requirement for storm water harvesting in new residential and other developments
*     mandating dual pipe systems in new residential developments and encouraging installation of these systems in existing buildings
*     strengthening of permanent water savings rules.

It has missed a major opportunity to boldly support a jobs-rich roll out of rainwater tanks across suitable buildings in Melbourne, a proposal which would be widely supported and deliver new jobs across the state.

On desalination: sadly, this report continues to peddle the line that the mega desalination plant proposed for the Gippsland coast is a key option for securing Melbourne's water future, and rules out consideration of smaller desal plants. Yet there is a range of evidence that suggests that smaller  more localised desalination plants (to the order of 30-100 GL) are more cost efficient, less damaging to the environment, and have a smaller demand for energy.

Because of the Terms of Reference, the Committee had no ability to consider the many problems associated with the North South pipeline. The social and environmental impacts are massive and there are serious concerns that there will be insufficient water generated to actually put through the pipe.

“The Committee has done an excellent job of sketching out many worthwhile ideas to recover more water in a sustainable manner. But government water policy still builds its house on the very unpopular bedrock of the desalination plant and the North South pipeline. Surely it is time for the government to reconsider the $5 billion it is putting into these clearly unsustainable projects and instead consider the many lower impact, job rich solutions outlined in this report which will actually be welcomed by local communities and allow us to meet our future water needs”.

Cam Walker 0419 338 047