Water policy direct from La La Land
THE Brumby Government's water policy is looking less and less sustainable every day. There are a range of options that are all cheaper and environmentally more sustainable than the Government's decision to build a $3.1 billion desalination plant at Wonthaggi, and the $1 billion north-south pipeline designed to divert water from the Goulburn reservoir to Melbourne Water.
The need to generate these additional supplies is based on water projections that are so flawed they border on the ludicrous, or the outright dishonest. The Government predicts a water supply crisis based on running a regression curve through the three drought years of 2004-2006, which shows the reservoirs that supply
However, on the Government's own say so, the pipeline and the desalination plant will not begin delivering water until 2010 and 2011 respectively; but even if the plant is working by 2010 it wouldn't cover the shortfall projected by the Government.
Neil Rankin is the author of a recent and excellent supply/demand analysis of
What this army of apologists for the financial engineers who have taken over the infrastructure priorities of this state — and are in the process of taking over the infrastructure priorities of the nation if the appointments to the national Infrastructure Board and the broadband inquiry are any guide — should have done is projected demand based on a 10-year rainfall regression that includes 2007 statistics.
It has taken a schoolteacher and a group of volunteers fighting to save their local environment to point out that the emperor of Spring Street and his retinue of advisers have no clothes on. In short, what this group has put together is a far more scientifically honest. and hence realistic, forecast, with 2007 levels of per capita consumption scaled for population increase and severe climate change. This shows that in 2016 the supply of water will be double the level of consumption.
Even if there was unrestricted consumption and a 25% increase in consumption above current levels, the excess of supply over consumption would still be about 60% in 2016.
The group that has put together these figures has been trying to see Water Minister Tim Holding for three weeks to discuss them. They want to see their analysis subjected to detailed examination and debate. They fear that if they send it to the minister it will be dismissed in a load of spin.
As readers of my recent columns discussing the alternatives to the desal plant and the north-south pipeline will appreciate, a lot of concerned people have been writing to Holding wanting to know why these alternatives have not been examined before the Government commits to what are arguably the worst alternatives available. Some of the ministerial replies have been passed on to me. They suggest the Government is determined to avoid sensible discussion of the alternatives.
The big question is: who prepared the shoddy projections on which the Government is basing its plans? It doesn't appear to be Melbourne Water. If Melbourne Water was involved then there is a complete disjuncture between the forecasts and Melbourne Water's operating and capital budget projections between 2008 and 2012.
The not-so-secret agenda of Labor governments across the country and the corporatised urban water authorities appears to be to find ways to increase the price of water as a prelude to setting up a water market leading to privatisation of water infrastructure.
The peak industry body is the Water Services Association of Australia. It is chaired by Dr Kerry Schott who has impeccable connections with Labor governments. She was appointed managing director of Sydney Water in 2006 from the position of deputy secretary of NSW Treasury. Before that she spent 15 years as an investment banker in the infrastructure area, including roles as managing director at Deutsche Bank and executive vice-president at Bankers Trust
If the Brumby Government really believed water was going to run out by 2010, rather than using the forecasts as an excuse to set up a couple of dodgy public-private partnerships that won't be ready in time, it would already have instituted a crash program in conservation, water harvesting, recycling, rolling out of rainwater tanks and maintaining draconian water restrictions to meet the crisis.
It isn't. Because it knows its projections don't hold water. It can't be long before voters know this too.