Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Brumby government has got it wrong on water

The Brumby government has announced their strategy for coping with the now chronic water shortage due to Victoria's greatly reduced rainfall.

Rainfall in the state has reduced 75% over the last ten years, which far exceeds the worst case predictions by the CSIRO when they modeled the effects of climate change.

It is therefore appropriate that the Victorian government take fairly urgent action to address this very serious issue that now impacts all Victorians. The question is, have they got the right strategies in place?

The government's Water Plan, also labeled as “Our Water Our Future” details the following key initiatives:

    1. A new desalination plant for Melbourne
    2. Modernising Victoria’s Food Bowl irrigation system to capture lost water for farms, the environment and Melbourne
    3. Expansion of Victoria’s Water Grid
    4. Upgrading Melbourne’s Eastern Treatment Plant to provide over 100 GL of recycled water in 2012 and assessing a range of alternative uses of this water
    5. Supporting new and existing water conservation programs for homes and industry.

    While elements of this plan seem reasonable, the projects arising out of it to date are highly questionable.

    The desalination plant

    The proposed desalination plant at Wonthaggi is supposed to provide 150 gigalitres of water per year – enough for one third of Melbourne's consumption. However, this plant will require 90 megawatts of power to run. This translates to 1 terawatt hour per year (1,000 gigawatt hours).

    The government has stated that they will source renewable energy for this, but there is significant risk that they won't be able to get enough.

    Premier John Brumby stated on ABC Radio 774 on 26 June 2008 that the desalination plant would cost less to install and use less energy than installing domestic rainwater tanks with electric pumps. The information he based this claim on appears to be incorrect. Calculations on domestic pumps supplying one million households indicated that they would only consume 365 gigawatt hours per year, less than half the amount required to power the desalination plant.

    More energy is also need to pump water from the desalination plant to Melbourne.

    Stopping logging in Melbourne's water catchments would yield about another 30 gigalitres per year.

    Modernising Victoria's irrigation system

    This $750 million project is part of a government water strategy, which would also modernise infrastructure in the region to save 225 billion litres of water now lost through evaporation, seepage and system inefficiencies.

    While replacing fixing leaks and water losses in irrigation infrastructure is a good thing, the Victorian government has announced a plan to pump water from the Goulburn River, which is in the water-deprived Murray Darling catchment, over the Great Dividing Range to Melbourne.

    The two glaring problems with this are:

    1. There is not enough water in the Goulburn River to take more out without critically endangering both the Goulburn and Murray Rivers.

    2. The water taken out, estimated to be 75 gigalitres, will be pumped over the Great Dividing Range to Melbourne, which will result in more carbon emissions

    Expansion of Victoria’s Water Grid

    The concept behind “expanding the water grid” is to provide interconnections between river systems and storages across the state of Victoria.

    The claimed benefits for this include:

    • Increase the security of water supplies by diversifying the sources of water available for communities connected by the Grid

    • Enable water to be traded more readily, by making it easier to transfer water to where it is most needed and valued

    • Increase the value of supply options (current and future) by increasing the flexibility and diversity of uses.
    • The expanded Victorian Water Grid will allow more water to be transferred between water systems.

    However, around 10,000km of expensive new pipeline is required to create this network.

    There are social equity issues with taking scarce water from rural areas to for Melbourne's domestic water supply.

    Environmental flows have not been provided to the Yarra River which flows through Melbourne, contrary to scientific recommendations and a previous government commitment. This environmental flow should be provided to ensure the health of the river.

    Carbon emissions are generated every time water pumped through a pipeline unless renewable energy is used for this.

    Upgrading Melbourne’s Eastern Treatment Plant to provide over 100 GL of recycled water in 2012 and assessing a range of alternative uses of this water

    This proposal is a good one. However, Melbourne produces around 320 GL of wastewater per year. Around 400ML per day is pumped out from Gunnamatta Beach outfall alone.

    The government should set a higher target for recycling water of at least 200GL, and eliminate ocean outfalls.

    Latrobe Valley power stations consume 140 billion litres (GL) of water per year, so recycled water could be used for this purpose rather than drinking water.

    Supporting new and existing water conservation programs for homes and industry

    This initiative is commendable. However, Melbourne's daily water usage is still quite high at 277 litres per person per day. A reduction to 150 litres per person per day is achievable, which would greatly reduce demand for water, and expensive new infrastructure to provide it.


    The Brumby government has embarked on an expensive plan to address Victoria's water shortage, with a particular focus on ensuring Melbourne's water supply, with some severe impacts on rural areas resulting. In particular, the loss of water from the ailing Goulburn River, and the building of an energy hungry and polluting desalination plant at Wonthaggi will have major impacts to these regions.

    The entire Murray Darling River is now at risk. Rather than taking more water from the Goulburn River, increased environmental flows should be provided to both the Goulburn and Murray rivers.

    The $4.9b spending on these water projects will be passed onto Victorian taxpayers, with water bills increasing by about 15% already in 2008. It is projected that water prices will double by 2012 to pay for these projects.

    Simple proven measures to increase water supply by protecting water catchments from logging are being ignored.

    Melbourne's water supply needs would be better and more cheaply met by:

    • reducing water consumption through increased efficiency measures

    • stopping logging in water catchments

    • major investment in domestic water tank systems, which have the added advantage of being installed incrementally

    • harvesting, storing and using more of the 450 GL of storm water Melbourne loses per year

    • recycling at least 200GL of sewerage per year and stopping ocean outfalls.

    These initiatives can be funded from recurrent spending at cheaper rates (10%) than funds for giant projects such as the proposed $3b desalination plant (20%) under a Public Private Partnership.

    The other worrying aspect of the government's water strategy is the apparent lack of supporting information on how their decisions were made, and grossly inadequate public consultation during its development.

    The water strategy has been delivered as a fait accompli by government; they are not showing any signs of investigating lower risk and cheaper, more distributed alternatives.

    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    We need to reduce petrol use, not increase supply

    Petrol prices in Australia have just hit all time record highs or around $1.70 per litre. This is having a big impact on people, particularly those who are dependant on cars for their work and/or commuting. I just filled my car up, a Mitubishi 4WD van with a long range tank, and put over $200.00 in it for about 130 litres. The car gets about 12l/100km which is much better than a "conventional" 4WD but a lot worse than fuel efficient diesels which get 5l/100km.

    Unfortunately, the Rudd Government and the federal opposition, led my Brendan Nelson, both share the view that we need to increase supplies of fuel. Neither seem too interested in providing alternatives to using cars such as boosting public transport for bike paths and lanes.

    Industry Minister Martin Ferguson is even in Saudi Arabia trying in vain to get OPEC to boost supplies in an effort to reduce the price [link] however:

    The Federal Opposition says Energy Minister Martin Ferguson will most likely achieve little at the emergency meeting of energy powers in Saudi Arabia.

    The world is running out of oil, so the price will continue to rise.

    It is high time our political leaders stopped gazing at their navels and took some real action to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel, with the added benefit that this would lower carbon emissions and help us try to avoid dangerous climate change to.

    They should also make diesel cheaper than petrol, as there is a greater supply and diesel motors are much more efficient than petrol motors so they emit less greenhouse gas per km travelled.

    Currently the Australian government has a higher excise on diesel as they only seem to car about taxing it to the equivalent dollars travelled per km to petrol, rather than taking into account its environmental benefits.

    However, diesels also emit fine particulates which are not good for human health, so they are not a long term sustainable transport option.

    PS: Martin Ferguson came back from Saudia Arabia with his tail between his legs, having achieved absolutely nothing to reduce the price of petrol or oil.

    External links

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    More trains are needed for Melbourne, not more roads

    With Melbourne's rail network patronage now approaching or exceeding capacity (Age 19/6) and many roads and freeways now suffering from chronic congestion, it is apparent that the Victorian government's chronic under investment in public transport has compromised both Melbourne's liveability and sustainable transport options.

    Peak hour at Flinders Street Station. Photo: Paul Harris

    The government's obsessive focus on revenue collection, fare evasion and new ticketing systems is clearly inappropriate. Whole new regions of Melbourne now lack convenient access to rail transport as no significant new suburban train lines have been built since 1930.

    Building more roads tunnels like the Eddington report recommends will simply encourage more traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, as the huge investment in road and freeways to date has demonstrated.

    The previously planned Rowville, Doncaster and South Morang railway lines should be resurrected and completed. A comprehensive planning process for new public transport, with proper community consultation, is urgently required.


    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Like trying to mix woodchips and water

    In April 2008, I represented Environment East Gippsland (EEG) at a ‘Stakeholder Reference Group’ meeting, as part of the government’s “Wood and Water Sustainability Assessment Project”. Having been to many of these set-ups in the past, we didn’t have high hopes this one would achieve anything, other than legitimising what the DSE plans to do anyway.

    The stakeholder group has been formed to look at options to address water loss due to logging in catchments. This links back to commitments in the 2004 Victorian Government report "Securing our Water Future Together". It included studies and investigations that have still not been officially completed.

    EEG’s concerns about the process include:

    1. Inputs not available

    The following three inputs are now well overdue for release:
    • Timber substitution studies
    • Hydrological studies
    • Water quality review
    The process cannot continue until all of these are available. We were informed that they were "very close to being released". But this was also the case last year. The process should not continue without them.

    2. Inappropriate criteria for options

    The following criteria were listed, saying that they were not up for discussion:

    Criteria (1): All management regimes in regards to State forest within Melbourne catchments should:
    • aim to improve water yield;
    • work within existing government policy; and
    • ensure that current government log supply commitments are met.
    These are at huge odds; increasing water yield while destroying key habitat and over logging is just not possible.

    Criteria (2) — Logging in Melbourne’s catchment’s should include assessing:
    • phasing out of logging;
    • a reduction of the net area of logging following the expiration of current legal obligations; (ie reduce logging once the best areas have been trashed)
    • substitution of native forest logs with plantation logs;
    • substitution of forest logs inside the water catchment with forest logs outside the catchment;
    • thinning; (ie ‘manage native forests intensively as if they were monoculture plantations’)
    • various logging rotation lengths (halve the rotation down to 30 years or less?)
    The government feels obliged to honour its promise of logs to Maryvale’s woodchip mill for years to come, thereby protecting commercial interests. However, the error in promising those log volumes in the first place should be reassessed so that water catchments are protected.

    3. Inappropriate options for Forest Management Regimes

    Various logging options were tabled, but none suggested ending logging by 2010. I stated that this option was essential due to growing community concern over loss of water and expectations raised by stated government commitments in their 2002 and 2004 reports on water.

    We were told that the 2010 option would be "assessed but not presented to government". I reiterated that it must be.

    In addition, a "Key Words" sheet was circulated that redefined "Phasing out logging" to 'phase down of logging'. I objected to this. This were really just weasel words.

    4. Carbon storage in forests is under estimated

    The consideration of "carbon storage in forests" as an environmental impact only related to tree trunk biomass. Once again I pointed out that carbon storage in forests included understorey, soil and other organic matter such as leaf litter.

    Some gems from industry people at the meeting:
    • ‘Let’s consider 30 year rotation options’ (currently 50-80 yrs)
    • ‘Fixing leaky taps in Melbourne would save more water’ (!)
    • ‘Plantations can’t provide enough pulpwood (they can, immediately)
    • ‘50% of timber from catchments is used for furniture’ (in fact it’s about 2%)

    Where to from here

    A letter has been sent to DSE outlining EEG’s concerns and that we will not participate further if an option for stopping logging in catchments by 2010 is not included. TWS, The Central Highlands Alliance (TCHA) and the ACF are likely to also boycott this seemingly pre-determined process.

    Logging in catchments is bad because:
    • water is lost at about a litre a second but only 15% of the wood is used for timber (2% for high value products) and 85% is woodchipped
    • it is feeding the ‘need’ for the desalination plant (which will cost $9,000 per ML) as well as the controversial north-south pipeline (diverting from the Murray Darling system to Melbourne)
    • endangered Leadbeater’s Possum habitat is being destroyed
    • the government is not honouring its ‘02 and ‘04 commitments
    • there is a stealthy conversion of forests into plantations
    • the government is ignoring the public and doing deals with industry.
    Protecting forests to increase water yields is essential in all Victorian catchments including East Gippsland, Central Highlands and the Murray Darling basin.

    If they don't include the 2010 deadline for logging option and release the long-overdue promised reports, EEG will have ‘input’ from ‘outside’ - via community campaigns. The process really just seems to be focussed on keeping the logging industry happy.

    A Victorian logging industry presentation mirrors almost exactly the current government position on why logging in catchments is justified and what might be considered in any review. A coincidence? Have a look for yourself [here] (a 3mb PDF download)

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Garrett guts solar rebate because it was too successful

    It is World environment day on the 6 June.

    I couldn’t believe my ears when I saw and heard Garrett on the ABC TV news and 7:30 report tonight say in parliament today that he had to bring in the 100K household means test on solar panels because it was too successful.

    Yes, that’s right. Too many people were installing too many clean green renewable energy panels. So they brought in the 100k means test to snuff this out.

    Garrett’s metamorphosis is complete. He is now just another politician. The best he can offer on World Environment day is a voluntary (read ineffective) energy labelling scheme for TVs. This is totally lame.

    If you would like to send an email to Peter Garrett about this you can use this form the ACF has provided on their website.

    Rudd can’t stop subsidising the Australian car industry that continues to build petrol guzzling V6 and V8s and throws more money at them to build hybrids. Why not redirect existing subsidies to this? Freiburg in Germany has shown what can be really done to reduce the reliance on cars.

    How many more coal fired power stations will be built under the Rudd government, when we need to decommission 1 per year to meet emission reduction targets?

    It didn’t take long for Labor’s “green spots” to fall off after the election.

    Here is a copy of the email I sent to Garrett on the means test for the solar subsidy:


    Dear Mr Garrett

    I'm very disappointed that the Government has announced new restrictions on the solar panel rebate program - at a time when Australia should be ramping up its efforts to tackle climate change.

    The new $100,000 per annum household means test is going to stop thousands of Australian families from going solar, and put a big dent in our growing solar industry.

    I'm calling on you to be our solar champion - and increase the means test to $250,000 per annum - the same level as the household energy and water efficiency 'green loans' program.

    I also know the biggest decision your Government will make this year will be setting Australia's 2020 target for reducing our greenhouse pollution.

    The target will set the scene for Australia's overall effort on climate change - and for our shift to solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. That's why, in addition to increasing the means test for the solar rebate, I also urge you to commit to a strong greenhouse pollution reduction target of at least 30% by 2020, and ensure a cleaner, safer future for Australia.

    Solar panel rebates are not middle income welfare. Solar electricity production is one of the important measures we need to take to address climate change. The $100,000 means test effectively knocks the rebate out for the vast majority of people who would have installed panels and claimed it. I personally know of five people in this situation.

    Please increase the means test to $250,000 per annum.

    Regards, Peter Campbell


    Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    Water for swimming pools is bad for the environment and climate change

    Cycling to work this morning through Camberwell I happened upon these two trucks that were pumping water into a house, presumably to fill a swimming pool.

    Melbourne water restrictions disallow filling pools from the mains water, so now people pay to have it trucked in from country Victoria.

    The direct consequences of this are:
    • Depletion of acquifers (underground water) where this water is pumped from
    • Carbon emissions from pumping from the ground, truck transport, then pumping from the truck to the pool.
    I think this practice is really inappropriate for these reasons. Perhaps the time has come to only allow the filling of pools from roof storm water, or to just ban them? Surely this is now a luxury that we cannot really afford, if we are serious about taking all available steps to combat climate change.

    The average pool would only get used about 15 days in a year in any case.