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    The Age: Water waste of our dam money 17/11/08

    Media

    http://business.theage.com.au/business/water-waste-of-our-dam-money-20081116-685h.html

    Kenneth Davidson
    November 17, 2008
    ONCE Melbourne’s water supply levels fall below
    29.3% of catchment capacity by year end, unless
    there is above normal rainfall, level 4 water
    restrictions are supposed to apply to Melbourne consumers automatically.

    Even so, the problem for Melbourne is more a lack
    of confidence than a lack of water. Even at 29%
    capacity, this amounts to 516 gigalitres compared
    with Melbourne’s annual consumption, under current 3a restrictions, of 380GL.

    Even without rain and the 150GL at the bottom of
    the dams which is sludge and can’t be used, there
    is still enough water to get Melbourne through to
    June 2010 at current consumption rates. With any
    inflow at all, this limit extends. Even if the
    inflow was reduced by 30% ­ the worst possible
    climate change scenario ­ Melbourne wouldn’t run out of water until 2015.

    There isn’t a water problem ­ only the perception
    of a water problem, which has been used to
    justify poor policy decisions which will last for
    at least 30 years. These decisions will likely
    result in reducing irrigated agriculture in
    Victoria by 50% and the Government has already
    announced it will increase the price of Melbourne water by 260%.

    The decisions which are causing a crisis of confidence in water policy are:

    * The $2 billion Food Modernisation Program which
    is really just a new way of measuring water. Most
    of the water “saved” by the improved irrigation
    system seeps into the Murray-Goulburn rivers now,
    robbing them of environmental flows. Irrigators
    will be forced to pay higher water costs to
    service their part of the $2 billion debt, making
    unviable thousands of irrigators and their country towns.

    * The $1 billion north-south pipe connecting the
    Goulburn to Melbourne which will produce water
    more expensive than desalinated water, providing
    there is enough in the Eildon dam to supply the
    Murray-Goulburn irrigators, Ballarat, Bendigo and Melbourne.

    * The $3.1 billion desal plant which will supply
    water at six times the cost of existing dam
    water, contribute to global warming, coastal
    pollution and Australia’s foreign debt burden.

    As has been pointed out in this column, there are
    cheaper options to increase water security for
    Melbourne and supply enough water to the
    Murray-Goulbourn catchment area. This would save
    both irrigators and irrigation towns along the
    lower Murray and stop further acidification of
    the Murray’s mouth which threatens the water
    supplies of 90% of South Australia’s towns and industry.

    Neither state nor federal ministers have deigned
    to look seriously at these options. They have
    been led by the nose by corporate rent seekers
    who can see private fortunes to be made out of
    water trading under the umbrella of the high
    price set by desal water and by market
    fundamentalists whose mindset and shonky
    economics have been major contributors to the
    current global financial crisis. When Melbourne
    and Metropolitan Board of Works engineers
    designed the Thomson Dam in the 1970s it was to
    drought-proof Melbourne. It doesn’t because it was never finished.

    The project wasn’t completed because good seasons
    filled the Thomson. The Cain government believed
    this meant the engineers were unnecessarily gold
    plating the project and wasting taxpayers money.
    What the engineers couldn’t get across was that
    dams aren’t built for good seasons.

    The plans still exist. The cost of
    implementation, including a short tunnel through
    the Great Divide to supply water to meet the
    needs of Murray-Goulburn irrigators and the
    environment, would be under $500 million even if
    it was done as a crash program.

    Even at this late stage, the MMBW plans could be
    up and running before the desal plant and the
    north-south pipeline and so there is still a
    chance of saving Goulburn irrigators.

    Last week the Coalition and the Greens said they
    would seek the support of Senators Xenophon and
    Fielding to block the north-south pipeline. While
    stopping the pipeline will give a reprieve to
    Goulburn irrigators, saving South Australia and
    the lower Murray would require an additional
    400GL a year diverted from the completed Thomson
    system. Melbourne’s water supply from Thomson
    could be replaced by water piped under gravity
    from Tasmania to Melbourne at a fraction of the
    cost of desal water. This would create the
    opportunity for an expansion of irrigation in the
    Murray-Goulburn basin. The only barrier to this
    is the lack of vision among myopic politicians.

    kdavidson@theage.co.au

    admin @ November 17, 2008

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