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.
admin @ November 17, 2008