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modernist water dreaming « Previous | |Next »
April 29, 2005

For the return of more technocratic modernist dreams we only need to look at the way the states are dealing with water shortages arising from the declining rainfall in south-west Australia and the Perth region in the last decade or so.

Dams and increased storage capacity are back on the policy agenda. The Queensland Government flagged a new $149million dam, Wyaralong Dam, in the hinterland behind the rapidly growing Gold Coast, as part of its new $55billion infrastructure investment. Dams depend on rain in the hinterland or catchment.


Sydney, for instance, is faced with big water shortfalls and it keeps on talking about needing to build new dams to increase storage capacity. They are still in love with one big massive structure with a several billion dollar price tag. However, the decline in rainfall from a drying climate means that the rains aren't there to fill the dams already built. Though the water shortfalls will continue to increase, the NSW Carr Labor Government continues to resist recycling the storm and waste that gushes from the city drains into the sea.

Sydney's water strategy is one of finding more water to waste, rather than saving the water it already has. it highlight's the Carr Government's reluctance to reduce the megacity's ecological footprint and ensure environment protection, restoration and an improved quality of life.

Over in Western Australia they continue to talk about bringing water down to Perth from the Kimberleys. The Gallop Labor Government is seriously considering four options: various kinds of pipeline proposals including that Ernie Bridges; a canal; shipping water along the coast in tankers; and tugs towing water bags. The big projects for a big country means that there is very little mention of recycling storm and waste water, despite plans to build a desalinisation plant for Perth. At least Perth, unlike Sydney, recognizes that the big rains aren't going to return on a regular basis.

What seems to have been completely forgotten in all of this modernist infrastructure dreaming is the pricing water to reflect full cost recovery. Though that was an integral part of the COAG water reform process, it has been quietly sidelined. So the water reform process has stalled and old frayed dreams have become the new reality.

Update: April 30
An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald talks straight.It says that we should not excuse the Carr Government's failure to deliver on water reform.

It has had a decade to confront neglect. Yet it still treats the city's water shortage as a short-term emergency, hoping temporary water restrictions will tide us over until a sustained downpour blesses the city's optimistically named "catchment" area. Crisis management is no substitute for a sustainable long term plan. This must begin with control of demand by firm regulation of use and pricing that properly reflects scarcity. These are not measures for the time being, but for the foreseeable future, to re-educate a community that for too long has been able to avoid the full seriousness of Sydney's water problems. But restrictions on private consumption have severe limits; what is needed is recycling.

It adds that the technology is there to re-use grey water, storm water and even sewage, to meet more of Sydney's water needs than will the proposed desalination plant.The desalination project perpetuates the flawed central thinking of last year's Metropolitan Water Strategy which, despite offering many welcome initiatives, put little emphasis on re-using water.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:15 PM | | Comments (1)