Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Water Wars

The State government has announced an easing of water restrictions. What a relief. I guess that must mean, in the run up to the election, that the water crisis is over.

Melbourne’s storage reserves have fallen from near 100% capacity in 1996 to 33.9% capacity in April 2010. According to the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, within 10 years, climate change, continued population growth and drought could result in shortfalls of drinking water of approximately 100 billion litres per year for Melbourne alone.

And of course, there is no escaping the impact of the climate crisis on our water shortage. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria is now 1 degree hotter than it was in 1950. For each degree of temperature rise, we lose 15% of stream flow. We've now had 13 years hotter and drier than the long term average, and we've never had a run like this before. We are way out of our historical experience.

Faced with these challenges, the State government has
They have failed to offer the leadership we need in this crisis.

Premier Steve Bracks said on 13th November 2006, in the lead up to the last State election:

Recycling and conservation will secure Melbourne’s water supply ... The energy generation [of a desalination plant] is enormous, the intrusion on the community is enormous and, of course, it’s extraordinarily expensive ... really, what a hoax it is. We’re into long term solutions.

Despite this assurance, the Victorian government has committed to an unsustainable, high carbon intensive desalination plant. The Kilcunda desalination plant will produce 150 gigalitres per annum at a cost of over $4 billion and an additional 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 to Victoria’s annual greenhouse emissions. Water bills will double to pay for it.

Site of the proposed desalination plant at Kilcunda

For half of the cost of the plant, and a fraction of the carbon emissions, we could instead implement a 5 point plan for water:
  1. Stop logging Melbourne's water catchments. The cost of stopping this is just a few million dollars. Stopping logging now won't recover what we've lost, but will save us at least 15 gigalitres per annum in lost water between now and 2050, or enough water to fill 6000 Olympic-sized swimming pools every year.
  2. Introduce stormwater capture, treatment and use, saving 50 gigalitres of water, and even more with proper storage facilities.
  3. Upgrade the existing Eastern Treatment Plant to Class A water, giving us an additional 72 gigalitres per annum
  4. Government replacement of existing single flush toilets in Melbourne with dual flush, saving 15 gigalitres per annum
  5. Introduce a 50% subsidy on water tanks, saving 25 gigalitres each year.
Rather than using the same kind of energy intensive solutions that got us into this mess in the first place, why don’t we try to be smart, innovative and sustainable, so Melbourne has enough water for the future, and doesn’t suck the rest of the State dry?

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