Watershed Victoria is gravely concerned that the Victorian State Government is about to commit current and future generations of Victorians to contracts that do not meet their long-term desires or needs in relation to water policy.
A ’silver bullet’ mentality has been seized upon, with two large infrastructure projects being proposed to solve Melbourne’s water woes.
The North-South pipeline should be dropped. It would be a minor part of the solution, given the effects of climate change and drought on available flows, making this a very expensive option for the dollars spent, the volumes sourced and the communities affected.
The other, larger part of the current ‘Water Plan’, is a seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant proposed for the Bass Coast. The funding model chosen is a ‘Public Private Partnership’ (PPP), creating a necessity to profit from water. Veolia (Connex), who have just lost the right to run Melbourne’s rail network, or another French company Degremont/Suez, will lead a consortium to implement and profit from this plant. An internet search reveals that both these companies have questionable corporate, environmental and human rights records. Internationally they have recently lost sizeable chunks of their business as a result of adverse publicity and boycott campaigns. The Victorian Government is about to hand over one third of our water supply to one of these consortia.
Seawater desalination is expensive, provides few long-term jobs, has huge climate implications and creates another effluent outfall to the marine environment. The proposal is of such a scale that there is only one of these SWRO desalination plants in the world that is operating at a larger scale. *
Here lies a major concern. Depending on conditions in the north of the state, between 50 and 60 percent more water will be coming into Melbourne annually from these two options than we have been using. With this level of expensive “new” water in the system, where will be the incentive for sustainable water policy over the coming decades? **
The State has a duty to secure basic necessities like water supply, but it must consider long term social, economic and environmental outcomes. How can a PPP provide an alignment of public and private needs to achieve these outcomes, while profiting from a desalination plant? Will the momentum, desire, and ability, to use water more wisely in Melbourne be lost. Sustainable options exist now at a fraction of the implementation, operation and environmental cost of desalination. Investment in these options could effectively be ruled out for decades if the government signs contracts with Veolia or Degremont/Suez worth billions of dollars. We will lose the chance for low impact, high job yield solutions to our current water stresses.
In the light of having obligated Melbourne water users to build the desalination plant, the State Government has just released and abandoned a business case to make use of recycled water from a promised upgrade to the Eastern Treatment Plant. Some 100 billion litres of Class-A recycled water will be pumped out to sea through the existing effluent pipe at Gunnamatta. Over the next twenty odd years the government has said it will be able to find a use for only at most a further 40 billion of this 100 billion litres. The potential from Melbourne’s storm water, to save massive volumes while delivering large benefits to our urban streams and bays, is now similarly in doubt ***. Large savings that could be made by not using potable water where it is not required and by delivering water efficient devices into all homes and businesses may also be in doubt. What will be the fate of these options when a consortium has designed contracts with its profits in mind? Will they be permitted to provide water in opposition to the consortium’s product?
We the undersigned believe the current Water Plan is fundamentally flawed by bringing huge volumes of “new” water to Melbourne, adding to a sewage and wastewater system that is already under stress. Why is the Government excluding use of the massive volumes of waste and storm-water currently in Melbourne, thus reducing infrastructure stresses, marine and urban stream ecosystem degradation, and achieving water security at a fraction of the overall economic and carbon cost?
If the State Government is already financially obligated to the multinational consortia in some way, there should be no reason why the companies wouldn’t be prepared to be involved in alternative recycling or stormwater capture options instead, preferably in partnership with us, through our Government.
We ask the State Government to urgently rethink the cost-benefits of sourcing water from the north, and of the scale and desirability of the current desalination proposal in light of more environmentally sustainable options that are available right now at less cost.
We ask the Government not to sign contracts with the Veolia or Degremont/Suez consortia that will commit all Victorians to higher water bills, poor environmental outcomes, fewer jobs and the handing over of water infrastructure into private hands for the benefit of overseas investors.
* Jabail - Saudi Arabia, opened May 2009 in conjunction with an on-site power station.
** Analysis done by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (Aug 2008) shows that even allowing for the N-S pipe only operating at 1/3 capacity, if the desalination plant operates at its initial proposed capacity, dams will fill by around 2015/16 and restrictions not return until around 2060. This is the outcome with no further augmentation past the desalination plant, with the inflows continuing under the existing drought averages, with population continuing to increasing at current rates and water consumption much higher than now, at rates equivalent to 2005/06 consumption before restrictions were imposed. Your Water Your Say and Watershed Victoria have also provided analysis coming to a similar conclusion.