POLITICS – JUST ADD WATER DO NOT ADD WATER
As a preface I would again remind you of the different way the two main political parties are structured here in Australia. These two main Parties are the Australian Labor Party (minus the letter U in Labor) and the Liberal Party of Australia. The word ‘Liberal’ when used here is the exact opposite of what this same reference applies to in the US. Here, our Liberal Party is the major Conservative party, and would be exactly aligned with the Republican Party in the US, while the Labor Party would be exactly aligned with the US Democratic Party, although some might say that Australia’s Labor Party is closer to a Socialist leaning than might be your Democrats, although today, who could tell?
Last week, we ran this post about how some restaurants in Melbourne have canvassed the idea of charging customers for glasses of water that comes from the tap.
The problem lies with the dwindling water supplies for Australia’s second largest city, with a population of around 4 million.
This last week, weather conditions in Eastern Australia have been unstable to say the least. There have been wild storms, huge snowfalls, high winds and dramatic hailstorms from Queensland in the North to Victoria in the South, and also in Tasmania, that large island to the immediate South of the Continental mainland. Rivers have risen and some have even caused damaging floods.
One of those rivers to flood was the Mitchell River, in Gippsland, an area in the East of the Southern State of Victoria. This is the last of the major rivers in Victoria not to have a dam on it. Dams are the forgotten word here in Australia. Barely one has gone ahead in the last decade or two, and any that have been planned have either been knocked on the head cold, or proceed with much political backlash, and in fact only one Dam has actually proceeded beyond the thought bubble stage, a minor dam of little virtual use and questionable as any major addition to the water supply for the area it has been approved for.
Melbourne has pretty draconian water restrictions in place because their water supply has not been augmented as the population expands.
The Labor Party have been the biggest culprits on this front, as most States are controlled by a Labor Government, and to appease their Green allies, they rarely, if ever mention that ‘D’ word, knowing how much of a vote loser it can be.
The Mitchell River has long been looked upon as a good source of continuing fresh water, and an ideal place for a dam to add to water supplies. Around ten years back a forward thinking Victorian State Government under Liberal Party leader Jeff Kennett again floated the idea of damming the Mitchell as an augmenting source of water for dwindling supplies to the city of Melbourne. As expected the Green lobby galvanised against the proposal. The Government that proposed this dam actually lost an election, and there is conjecture that this project, and the flow of water from another source, the Snowy River, were reasons that led to the defeat of that Government. The incoming Labor Government, as appeasement to those loyal voters who supported them, then canned the proposal for that dam on the Mitchell River. They even went so far as to declare the area where the dam was proposed to be of national significance, and proceeded to then gazette that area as a National Park, forever cutting off any further prospect of placing a dam in that area, the only place on the River where it could best be placed to greatest effect in water gathering and storage. That same Labor Government then, to add weight to its decision actually spent millions on a study to come up with valid reasons saying that any dam on that river in that place would be of little virtual effect. End of story.
Now, years later we find Melbourne in dire need of fresh drinking water and little places to get it from as all sites for dams have now been protected. The only option is for that same Government to plan Desalination Plants at enormous expense, consuming vast amounts of electrical power in doing so, and alienating voters in those areas where they are planned, the usual NIMBY effect coming in to play for them.
So, what of the Mitchell and its questionable value as a water supply for ailing Melbourne.
In the last two years there have been two major floods in the low lying areas near where the Mitchell flows out into the southern ocean. These floods have been disastrous for those areas in the vicinity, and have caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage. Lives have been lost, as have livestock from beef, dairy and sheep grazing, farming areas, homes, and valuable topsoil, all just washed downriver and out to sea.
With this current wild weather, the Mitchell has again flooded, although not to the same extent as those two previous floods. That now adds up to 3 floods in the last two years.
The upshot of all that is this.
Each of those previous two floods sent more water down to the ocean than Melbourne uses in a year. So when this flood is taken into account, the equivalent amount of water sent out to sea adds up to close on 4 years supply of the total water usage for the area of the city of Melbourne and its 4 million residents, and that is just from the three floods alone. In the period of that last major flood when taken in isolation, in June and July of last year, more than 540 Billion litres of water has flowed down the Mitchell and into the ocean. The Government’s own advisers have said that the area now gazetted forever unable to have a dam placed there would be the most advantageous place to put a new dam, and calculations work out that a dam on the Mitchell would cost in the vicinity of $1 Billion. The desalination plant, already in construction will cost $3.1 Billion and will produce only 120 billion litres of drinking water, 20% of what flowed away during one flood, and at 3 times the cost of the proposed dam. Damage from each of those floods was calculated at close to $110 Million. This proves beyond doubt that dams are not just for water supplies, with an alternate added bonus that a hydro electric generator can be added, but they provide a valuable resource for flood mitigation, and nothing is as bad a disaster as a flood. It also puts lie to the Government’s own expensive report saying there was little if any value in using the water for Melbourne’s water supply
Such was also the case for the dam across the Snowy River further East of the Mitchell. This river was dammed as part of the famous Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme, one of 16 dams in that area, providing 12% of the total Electrical power for Victoria, that power also used in the State of New South Wales and some supplied to the grid supplying the State of South Australia. The dam on the Snowy is at Lake Jindabyne, and water collected from the snow melt in the Mountains is gathered in this dam, and through a series of huge pumps and tunnels is routed around the Scheme to other dams and hydro plants. The dam also alleviated immensely the problem of flooding in the lower reaches of the Snowy River, a regular occurrence in the years before the dam was constructed, floods from the snow melt and heavy rain in that area.
When the Labor Government came to power, they again appeased their Green lobby friends by passing legislation that instead of the water behind the dam being collected, and transported around the Scheme, than that water should be allowed to flow back down the Snowy River and out to sea. The flow into the Snowy downstream of the dam was around 5%, and there has not been a flood on the Snowy since the dam went in. This Labor Government plans to bring that flow back up to 28%, which is a lot of water released back into the River. At the same time, those farmers drawing water from the River have now been stopped from doing this, so all that water just flows unhindered and unused back out to sea. One of the side effects of doing this was the restoration of the downstream swamp wetlands, a known bird habitat, and something that was dramatically used as the success story of restoring the flow, again garnering Green lobby votes from city dwelling environmentalists.
The complete lack of forethought on this front again won votes, but the Hydro electric Scheme produced less electrical power because of it. We can only thank our lucky stars that the Snowy Hydro Scheme was planned and constructed during the 25 years after work started following World War Two, because if the same radical scheme was planned today, it would not get off the ground.
This allowing for the Rivers to run free has drawbacks, and those drawbacks are felt by Governments in disaster relief following floods, as well as for other reasons. The culture of the ‘No Dams’ Lobby is a blight on us all. Those yuppies who sip their latte’s in the big city and like to think of themselves in benevolent terms have no concept of those farmers who lose everything in a flood, those people forever scarred when their houses are flooded.
No. They just complain when asked to pay for a glass of tap water, but why would it bother them. They probably only drink Evian anyway.