The Victorian Government’s proposed desalination plant will produce 150 billion litres of freshwater per year, but will discharge even more saline water just beyond the boundaries of the Bunurong Marine Park near Phillip Island. The effect that will have on marine life is only one of the uncomfortable questions raised by this project.
The Minister for Water Resources, Tim Holding, claims the government will commission a series of studies into the impact of this project on the environment. After reviewing the studies Justin Madden, former Carlton ruckman and the Minister for Planning, will decide if an Environment Effects Statement is required. You don’t need a crystal ball to know he will then “tap” this project back to Premier Brumby, who has already said that an EES may not be necessary, given the importance of securing water resources for the state. The Premier doesn’t want to stall this project with an EES like the one that has delayed the Channel Deepening Project.
The initial economic analysis by Monash University Centre for Policy Studies used the Monash Multi Regional Forecasting Model (it is even exhausting to write). It also examined the proposed pipeline from the Goulburn River system to Melbourne domestic water supply. Water from the Goulburn that normally flows to the Murray River will be pumped over the Great Dividing Range to the Melbourne supply network.
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The pipeline is planned to deliver 225 gigalitres of water from “savings” generated by a $1 billion investment to upgrade water delivery, reduce evaporation by piping open channels, fixing leaks and so on. One third of these ‘theoretical’ savings will go for environmental flow, another to irrigators and a third to Melbourne’s water supply. This is the first stage of a plan to deliver up to 800 gigalitres in savings in the future. Yet many irrigators and others from the Goulburn Valley don’t believe a word of it. They say the pipeline will simply drain the Goulburn River. They accuse the state government of diverting water from agriculture at a time when they need it most, of robbing water from farmers in the Murray Darling System.
Of the “theoretical” savings – 800 gigalitres – one third will go for environmental flow, another third to irrigators and a third to Melbourne’s water supply. Yet many irrigators and others from the Goulburn Valley don’t believe a word of it. They say the pipeline will simply drain the Goulburn River. They accuse the state government of diverting water from agriculture at a time when they need it most.
Premier Brumby has already told Victorians that the price of domestic water will double over the next five years. However, apart from a return on the capital cost of infrastructure, the cost of water from these projects will be tied to the energy market, and desalination is an energy intensive process. Today, what consumers are left with is not a suitable political solution to water shortages. Rather, domestic water consumers, farmers and industry are yet to learn what the water from these projects will actually cost.
If those who are paying for the water solutions had that information, these projects might not be so easily realised by a state government desperate to be seen doing something about water.