When the last major dam to provide Sydney with water was completed at Warragamba in 1960, New South Wales had a population of 3.9 million. Today the population is up 75% to nearly seven million but there is not even a site chosen for a new storage reservoir.

Melbourne’s Thompson dam was finished in 1983 and Victoria has added a million people to its population since then without any addition to water capture.

Little wonder that water supplies in our major cities are running short. A combination of nimbyism by people who do not want to have their own land flooded and the prevailing anti-development ethos of most of the environmental movement have prevented politicians from addressing this most basic of human needs.

The initial signs from the much heralded Federal intervention into water policy suggest that nothing much will change. All the current rhetoric is about better use of what is available rather than providing more.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann is clearly worried that a Liberal-National Coalition federal government will see the needs of irrigating farmers as a better use than providing water for Adelaide.

His state is at the end of the Murray Darling Basin line but at least when SA currently tackles the difficult task of dealing with the other governments in the Basin there is not the complication of his state Labor colleagues having to protect rural electorates. That would not be so if a federal National Party minister was in charge.

Rann has been trying to enlist the support of his State Premier peers to ensure this does not happen by proposing some independent body of experts but the NSW Premier Morris Iemma has enough water problems of his own without joining a fight against John Howard.

The extent of those Iemma water problems was revealed in today’s Daily Telegraph under the banner headline “TWO YEARS OF TOTAL CHAOS”.

The paper’s state political reporter Simon Benson gave details of secret plans for a desalination plant that will see “a maze of pipes and tunnels … bored under the homes of southern Sydney residents and hundreds of streets dug up in at least 15 suburbs – just to carry water from the proposed desalination plant to the city.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey