Saturday, April 21, 2007

Back in Australia the water situation seems dire for much of the continent

My first day back in Melbourne and it is raining. It feels good but I fear it is not the sort of rain to make a big difference. Melbourne is now on Stage 3a water restrictions. There may not be enough water to continue irrigated food and agricultural production in the vast Murray-Darling basin. Accusations fly back and forth, local action groups form, and as I suggested in an earlier posting on the subject, complexity and uncertainty seems exacerbated on a daily basis. Kathy Marks in a piece in the UK Independent, gives a good overview of the current situation.

There seems a strong case for more rigorous systemic analysis and for independent scrutiny of the claims and counter claims. Take the following example:

The New South Wales Government has asked for an expert review of a new report suggesting installing domestic rainwater tanks could allow a Sydney desalination plant to be delayed until 2026.

A study by economists Marsden Jacob Associates found rainwater tanks to be more than five times as energy efficient as a desalination plant per kilolitre of water produced.

The independent report, commissioned by three conservation groups, also found if tanks were installed in just 5 per cent of NSW households per year, the switch to desalination could be put back until 2026.

New NSW Water Utilities Minister Nathan Rees today said he had referred the report to "the relevant experts" for advice.

"As soon as they come back to me, I'll be giving that detailed attention," Mr Rees said.

"I would point out the Government's plan already increases the rainwater tank rebate from $800 to $1500 and extends it to rural and regional areas across the state."

Mr Rees refused to be drawn on whether the report's findings provided the Government with an attractive option in the fight to secure the state's water supply.

He said he "didn't have a view" on the report as he had yet to read it.

The Government's position on the 125 million-litre desalination plant proposed for Sydney's south remained unchanged, he said.

"The one truth in the water debate is there is only one option that will guarantee Sydney's water supply – an endless supply of water, the world's biggest dam and that is the ocean," Mr Rees said.

"That's what we're tapping into, that's what desalination allows us to do."

The NSW Greens said the Government's support for desalination was about maintaining centralised state control over water supply.

"Water utilities make money from consumption, they're less interested in conserving water and empowering people to manage their own supply," Ian Cohen, Greens Upper House environment spokesman said.

Mr Cohen applauded the boost to the water tank rebate but urged the Government to heed today's report and realise the full potential of the scheme.'

In the mean time the old town of Adaminaby has re-emerged from its grave in the depths of Lake Eucumbene.

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