Q1: What is your organisation Watershed about?
A1: We aim to have an impact to change the state government’s excessive and poorly conceived Water Plan. We wish for sustainable alternatives to be implemented BEFORE unsustainable ones. We further want to expose the lack of both due process and explaination for the current Water Plan.
Q2: Why are you opposed to the Desalination Plant?
A2: Melbourne is already awash with problem (or excess) water that is not used. The current Water Plan aims to bring even more water in toward Melbourne from both North of the divide and from down on the Gippsland coast, thus exacerbating and perpetuating the above problem. The project is hugely expensive in dollar terms, both in ongoing costs through water rates and additional infrastructure that will be needed to handle the additional up to 60% more water going, ‘once through’, the system. When this water has been used once it will find its way out to our rivers and bays, or the sewage outlet pipes, adding to the problems there. It will further create an additional outfall pipe at Wonthaggi.
The scale of the Plan (up to 60% more water than we are using now) will mean that the sustainable options to source water will not be implemented. The consortia building the desal plant are in such a powerful position (with the government having done almost nothing to source new water for population and climate change), that they will write contracts (that we will never see), ensuring they get paid even if water is not required from the desalination plant. They may even do deals to ensure that no other options are implemented in opposition to their supply of water.
The carbon emissions, up to 2% of Victoria’s electricity use if the plant operates at full capacity, are horrendous in these times. The commitment to offset these emissions is a hoax as the alternatives would only have required around one quarter the renewable offsets. Thus we are to be in a situation where a huge chunk of Victoria’s renewable energy will just be covering new (and excessive) emissions, rather than, that other three quarters being available to actually reduce our existing greenhouse emissions.
Q3: The plant has been the cornerstone of the Government’s long-term water solution. The government believes it is the most viable solution the water crisis. Are there any other alternatives which could create as much water as this plant is expected to produce annually? What are they?
A3: There are options of building new dams further East and pumping large distances to Melbourne’s supply (which would have adverse environmental effects, and possibly use near as much energy as the desal option) but we don’t favour those (although peak flood diversions on one or two rivers may have beneficial outcomes). Another option that can source the same or greater volumes than the current Water Plan is recycling from our treatment plants to “purified recycled water” standard and indirectly introducing this into our storages. Although producing a better/cleaner standard of water than either the desal or our current dam/river supply, this option is just not going to happen with this bunch of wimps we have for politicians (although it is the one recommended by most water experts and academics). Transferring water from other areas directly where there is plenty of water is a possibility, but not one that the current government is prepared to investigate. The Tassy Pipe proposal which is said to be able to transfer this quantity of water or greater, by gravity alone, into our reservoirs is one. Tankers taking water from Tasmania to Melbourne is another. Both of these last two have consortia proposing them but the government will not speak with them at all in the later case, and only cursorily in the first.
Really a raft of options will be needed in order to be able to source this water in a way that could be palatable by government. See “BETTER OPTIONS for lists of 5 do-able options. Note that the stated 225 Gigalitres from the government’s Water Plan is not needed unless spring rains fail at least every third year, the government’s own studies show that around 155 to 165 gigalitres is needed to cover the drought continuing, population increasing at the current rate and 2005/06 levels of consumption (without restrictions, see: http://www.watershedvictoria.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/basic-determination-of-a-sensible-level-of-augmentation-required-for-greater-melbournee28099s-water-supply9f1.pdf
Q4: What is Watershed’s take on salinity management if the plant goes ahead? Will Watershed conduct individual testing in order to ensure the plant is ecologically friendly? Will you act as a consumer watchdog?
A4: The mixing zone hasn’t even been set yet (and may never) and there is no agreement between DSE’s mixing hydrologist and the one we used. There is also no specification of testing regimes to be put in place (and may never be). There will be an exclusion zone which will likely prohibit independent testing at least within say 500m of the outlets. We wouldn’t have the finances to do much I wouldn’t think.
Interestingly the government provided no financial assistance for any alternative study or opinion during the EES, and this for Victoria’s most expensive ever infrastructure project! We had to raise the money for our one expert that we managed to afford, and couldn’t cover other issues with other than our own expertise.
The government well and truely knobled us in shutting down the original group “Your Water Your Say” just before the EES, we couldn’t get experts to do paid work as they thought there would be no chance of being paid, we were not able to participate until we just managed to establish the new group “Watershed Victoria” in time to participate.
Q5: The economics of the plant are in dire straits, with both French companies targeting the contract unwilling to meet the ever increasing costs. Do you believe the government will go ahead despite this and request extreme taxpayer contributions? It is also suggested water prices will rise? Do you think this is fair?
A5: Water prices will certainly rise. In NSW and QLD those governments admitted that water bills would rise between $150 and $200 on average due to their desal plants which are only 1/4 to 1/3 the size. On this basis $500 increase is likely over time, as allowed by the ESC. Now the list of alternatives mentioned in Q3 would only cost us between 1/2 and 1/3 as much. They would also reduce the amount that needs to be spent on stormwater and sewage infrastructure, where the desal will add to this. Fair, well it might be if the government had an electoral mandate for this plan, but they don’t. In fact they went to the election canning a small desal plant proposed by the Liberals, “…..energy intensive, socially disruptive, and what a hoax it is ” (Steve Bracks during the election campaign).
Q6: What is your understanding of the Government’s term: “Minimise impact” as refered to in the EES statement?
A6: The panel put this in a lot of their recommendations. Obviously there is no scale or qualification to this statement which is a worry. What’s more concerning is that the government added a rider to twelve of them to say “minimise where practical to do so”, or such words. This presumably comes down to nothing more than dollars, with the environment having to suffer beyond acceptable levels if they can’t afford to prevent that harm. And in this economic climate the dollars won’t be available, and the consortia will be able to say to the government, it’s XYZ or we don’t build it, the government will have no option but to give the OK.
Q7: What about the jobs that a desalination plant will create?
A7: There will be around 1500 jobs for a period of two years during construction. The alternative water supply options however, would involve many more jobs in implementing them. More important are the number of ongoing Australian jobs. The desalination plant will, for an investment of some $5 Billion, produce 50 full time equivalent jobs. That works out at $100 Million per job created. The alternatives would source significantly more ongoing Australian jobs.
Q8: Isn’t desalination OK if it’s offset with renewable electricity?
A8: The commitment to offset these emissions is a hoax as the alternatives would only have required around one quarter the renewable offsets. Thus we are to be in a situation where a huge chunk of Victoria’s renewable energy will just be covering new (and excessive) emissions, rather than that other three quarters being available to actually reduce our existing greenhouse emissions. Click here to see the numbers and analysis.
Q9: Why have they chosen to build the plant at this site?
A9: Two issues as to why they decided to build the desal where they did:
1. Back in the late 70’s a small feasibility study was undertaken as to whether desalination would ever be a suitable water source for Melbourne. A cross was drawn on the map at Wonthaggi and the facts and figures crunched. It was decided that desalination wouldn’t be feasible in the forseable future. We reckon that when the Government panicked in early 2007 after the spring rains failed in 2006, and they made the decision to go for desal, they typed the word “desalination” into the parliamentary library computers and up came this old report from the 70’s with the cross on it at Wonthaggi (at that stage Wonthaggi’s state mine had closed a couple of years earlier and that might have been the reason for choosing Wonthaggi then, as a potential employer).
2. Once they started to think about it a bit more they would have had a hard time saying we need small desal plants after giving the Libs such grief during the election campaign on their small plants plan. Brumby (or others), being such a believer in infrastructure projects driving the state’s expansion, must have made the decision to build a big one. I honestly believe either they didn’t realise how big the scale they had proposed was, or they thought they’d better get in now, before carbon issues stopped such madness (there was talk of both major parties bringing in the 500,000 tonne CO2 trigger).
Now having decided on such a large one it had to go somewhere on the coast from the Mornington Peninsula to Barrys Beach because:
- Ocean scale mixing would be needed to disperse this much brine (although they probably hadn’t realised that Bass Straight in this area doesn’t mix well (not open Ocean but a confined Straight), and the specific sight at Wonthaggi has a 30km x 8km shelf that’s very shallow (worst bit of coast in the area).
- To distribute this much water they had to have access near to the root of the dam distribution system which all flows East to South&West. They had to be on the East of Port Phillip Bay, Cardinia was OK, as 65% of Melbourne’s water goes through there. Had the plant been built further down the Gippsland coast its output could have gone either into dams (existing or new), or could, (if they had thought about it) been incorporated into schemes like taking recycled water to the power stations, etc. Unfortunately using Cardinia will mean that that reservoir will no longer be a candidate for purified recycled water schemes like in QLD as the desal has taken all its capacity to accept new water.
Q10: What will the desalination plant actually cost to build, and how much will each kilolitre of water cost us?
A10: Although the State Government keeps saying the plant will cost $3.5 billion, even the chairman of the consortium to build it admitted $4.8 billion on the ABC’s Stateline program 31st July 2009. Click here to hear more.