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From The Age

Bracks' $4.9bn water plan
David Rood, Orietta Guerrera and Rachel Kleinman
June 20, 2007

MELBURNIANS have been warned that their water bills will double in five years to pay for the State Government's radical remedy for the water crisis.

Premier Steve Bracks yesterday revealed Victoria's biggest water infrastructure investment in 25 years — a $4.9 billion plan that includes a desalination plant near Wonthaggi, in the state's south-east, and piping water to the city and suburbs from the Goulburn Valley.

The decision amounts to a comprehensive reversal by Mr Bracks who, before last year's state election, attacked a Liberal plan for desalination as "extraordinarily expensive".

The Government also faces a backlash from rural communities and the Victorian Nationals over the plan to pipe water from the state's north to Melbourne.

The bulk of the cost of the Bracks plan will be met by water users, with just $630 million to be contributed by the Government. Water charges will start to increase from 2008, with a typical annual bill tipped to reach almost $1000 in five years. But extra water will not start to flow until 2010. The plan includes:

• A $3.1 billion desalination plant funded entirely by consumers, providing 150 billion litres a year to Melbourne and Geelong by late 2011.

• A $1 billion upgrade to the Goulburn irrigation system, involving prevention of leaks and evaporation, and sending 75 billion litres in saved water down a $750 million pipe to Melbourne.

• A new water piping "grid" covering about 250 kilometres, including a link between Melbourne and Geelong.

• Cutting environmental flows to the Yarra and Thomson rivers by 20 billion litres a year if , as seems likely, Melbourne moves to stage 4 water restrictions from August 1.

But other proposals for securing the water supply have been benched. These included a $2 billion plan championed by Water Minister John Thwaites to cool Latrobe Valley power plants with recycled water, and harvesting Yarra River stormwater.

The Government is planning a $1 million advertising blitz for the water plan, including a two-minute television commercial.

Mr Bracks said yesterday the plan would increase Melbourne's water supply by 50 per cent within five years, with the desalination plant alone to provide a third of the city's needs. He said the initiative would "drought-proof" the water supply in the face of climate change and predicted population growth of 1.2 million in 25 years.

Piping water from the Goulburn Valley across the Great Dividing Range will break a Government pre-election promise. And building a desalination plant flies in the face of Mr Bracks' response to a similar Liberal proposal last year, when he said: "The energy consumption is enormous, the intrusion on the community is enormous and, of course, it's extraordinarily expensive."

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu yesterday criticised the level of government spending in the Bracks plan, saying the policy would see "more buckets and bigger bills" for water that would not flow until 2010.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Simon Ramsay lambasted what he called a hastily made decision. He said that after being assured on Monday by Treasurer John Brumby that the pipeline would not be approved without support from farmers and the community, Mr Bracks informed him it was going ahead 30 minutes before the announcement.

"It seems somewhat hypocritical that they continually ask the Commonwealth for details on the National Water Plan but are more than happy to announce a funding proposal without providing any detail to us," Mr Ramsay said.

Moira Shire mayor Frank Malcolm said his community was opposed to the plans to send water south for urban use.

The first phase of the Goulburn scheme, proposed by local business group Foodbowl Incorporated, will provide 225 billion litres to be split between irrigators, the environment and Melbourne by 2010. The Government is seeking Commonwealth funding for a second stage of the scheme.

Victorians Nationals leader Peter Ryan said he agreed in principle with desalination but the pipeline would see "the future of the Goulburn Valley flushed down Melbourne's toilets". He warned that the plan would cost the Government at the ballot box.

The desalination plant, one of the world's largest, will extract salt from Bass Strait sea water through a reverse osmosis process. The Government says it will buy renewable energy to make the plant carbon neutral.

The plan will have to overcome obstacles including environmental concerns and mounting development pressure on Bass Coast Shire.

The council's chief executive, Allan Bawden, acknowledged it could be sensitive in the area.

Mr Bracks defended the move to increase water prices by 20 per cent a year over the next five years to pay for the project. "I think people in Victoria realise that water prices have to go up to account for infrastructure because of drought, because of climate change," Mr Bracks said.

He said the plan would produce excess water above consumption by 2011 and modelling showed that restrictions could then be significantly eased.

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From The Age

Green light, so now search for coast site begins
June 20, 2007

The announcement of the Bass Coast as the location for a massive plant has brought applause and concern, writes Rachel Kleinman.

THE search is on for land to build Victoria's $3.1 billion desalination plant, the centrepiece of its water plan.

A 20-hectare site on the Bass Coast between Kilcunda and Wonthaggi is needed for what will be one of the world's biggest desalination plants.

The project is expected to boost drinking water supplies to Melbourne, Geelong, Western Port and Wonthaggi by 150 billion litres a year by 2011.

Obstacles will include environmental concerns and mounting development pressure in the Bass Coast Shire.

But the plant will provide an economic lift for the area and much-needed water supplies for the drought-stricken region, including Phillip Island, where storages are down to 7 per cent.

In 2003, Bass Coast was regional Victoria's fastest-growing municipality. The permanent population of 30,000 is expected to double in 30 years.

The shire's chief executive, Allan Bawden, said Department of Sustainability and Environment staff had started approaching landowners about sites, seeking permission to do soil tests.

Under compulsory acquisition laws, people can be forced to sell their properties.

"It would be hard to resist a project of state significance but there may be some people who don't want to move," Mr Bawden said.

A letter from the department was circulated in Wonthaggi yesterday after the proposal to pump a third of Melbourne's water from the ocean was made public.

"Over the next few days, all landowners … will be contacted to discuss this project and how they might be affected," it said.

Mr Bawden said the impact of a desalination plant on the coastal landscape could be an issue. "That is a highly recognisable piece of coastline," he said.

South Gippsland Conservation Society spokesman Dave Sutton expressed concern about the project impact on "a very significant coastal landscape" that was within two kilometres of the Bunurong Marine Park.

Melbourne Water's own feasibility study, which recommended the Gippsland site over three other options, found a high risk of visual impacts.

It also highlighted water quality risks because of the plant's proximity to Wonthaggi's sewage treatment outfall, and economic risks from past coalmining activity that could restrict tunnelling and construction.

Noise and vibration would have to be managed with large buffer zones around the plant, the survey found.

The desalination plan won support from the Australian Industry Group and the Property Council, which said it was overdue.

Environment Victoria was also upbeat. "There are potential benefits from desalination. It can take pressure off our stressed rivers during drought," executive director Kelly O'Shanassy said.

But international conservation group WWF yesterday released a report in Geneva condemning reliance on desalination technology because of its high energy use and possible risk to marine life.

The State Government will decide later this year the extent of private-sector input in the infrastructure.

The proposal includes an 85-kilometre pipeline to pump water into Melbourne's Cardinia Reservoir and smaller pipelines to supply regional centres.

The feasibility study estimated the carbon dioxide emissions from the plant would be 1 million tonnes a year if it was powered by coal.

But the Government yesterday promised to add 90 megawatts of renewable energy to Victoria's grid — equal to the plant's power needs.

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From Herald Sun

Water bills to rise in $5b plan
Ellen Whinnett, state politics reporter
June 20, 2007 12:00am

WATER bills will double in Melbourne to pay for $4.9 billion projects to drought-proof the city.

A new desalination plant and a pipeline from the state's north are expected to end the city's water crisis.

Premier Steve Bracks yesterday revealed the Government's plan to drought-proof the city, saying it would provide a 50 per cent boost to Melbourne's water supply in five years.

There will be a $3.1 billion desalination plant to turn ocean water into drinking water at Wonthaggi, and a $1.8 billion plan to save water by improving irrigation in the Goulburn region and piping the water to Melbourne.

But bills for householders and businesses will rise sharply across the state and double in metropolitan Melbourne to pay for the twin projects.

The plan has been described by Mr Bracks as the largest water project in Victoria since the building of the Thomson Dam.

"This is about the long term. It's not a quick fix, it's about the long term," he said.

The projects will not be on line until 2010 and 2011.

The key infrastructure elements of the proposals are:

The mostly prefabricated desalination plant, to be built near Wonthaggi.

The 85km pipe linking the desalination plant at Wonthaggi to Melbourne's Cardinia and Silvan reservoirs, and further pipes providing desalinated water to Westernport, Wonthaggi, Melbourne, Phillip Island and Geelong.

$1 BILLION worth of repair and upgrading works around Goulburn irrigation channels.

A 70KM pipeline worth $750 million diverting water from the Goulburn River to Sugarloaf reservoir in Melbourne.

A $80 MILLION pipeline linking Melbourne and Geelong's supplies for the first time.

A $30 MILLION pipe connecting Hamilton and the Grampians river system.

The 90 megawatts of energy required to run the desalination plant each year and the 10 megawatts required to power the Sugarloaf pipeline will come from wind farms.

The announcement of Australia's largest desalination plant was mostly welcomed yesterday across the state, while the north-south pipeline met fierce resistance from the Victorian Farmers Federation.

The desalination plant will provide 150 billion litres when it is fully operational at the end of 2011, while the north-south pipe will provide 225 billion litres by 2010.

The combined projects will add 375 billion litres to Melbourne's supplies.
A further $1 billion stage two in the north-south pipeline has been identified by the Government, which could provide a total of 450 billion litres.

Mr Bracks said Melbourne's water prices were at least 20 per cent cheaper than in other mainland capital cities.

"I think people in Victoria realise water prices have to go up to account for new infrastructure, because of the drought, because of climate change," he said.

Households and businesses in metropolitan Melbourne will be the hardest hit, with bills expected to double within five years.

Metropolitan authority South East Water told the Herald Sun the average water bill for a person living alone in a small house or flat with a medium garden was $300 a year, which is set to jump to as much as $600.

For a house occupied by two, the average is $432 a year.
The figure is $490 a year for three people, $560 for four people, and $640 for five people, bills which would all double within five years.

· Lord Melbourne
5,223 Posts
I hope the site is closer to Wonthaggi, rather then near kilcunda, tha river there has an awesome old rail bridge and is a nice area, it'd be good to build it a few kilometers east of that 'prime location' marked out in the papers today.

· Registered Melbourne
5,544 Posts
Not really. The hard bit is catching it in large doses. And if the fresh water doesn't fall from the sky, you're screwed. I know people who have had to live entirely off tank water and it is amazing how much rain you need on your roof to keep up the supply.
Depends on the rainfall, of course. I calculated my roof could more than adequately fill my tanks umpteen times over, but over the last few years I know a few people in southern & Central Victoria who relied on tanks but have had to resort to buying water.

The Victorian Government has made a sensible decision and hedged its bets: if it rains, they can pump water from the Goulburn (which incidentally has about thirty times the flow of the Maribyrnong). If it doesn't rain, they can turn on the desalination plant. As I've said before, there aren't many other options.

Personally, I only use 1/4 of the average consumption for households of my type (and I do occasionally wash :)). Most of my water bill is the service charge, not the volume charge: I hope they double the latter rather than the former.

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^^Spot on Yardmaster!

More info below.....

Extracts from The Age

Pass on the salt
June 21, 2007

Victoria is about to enter the brave new world of desalination. The $3.1 billion desalination plan means Melburnians will pay more for water and some South Gippsland landholders will lose their land. Rachel Kleinman, Josh Gordon and David Rood answer 10 key questions about one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in Victorian history.


The massive cost will be borne mainly by consumers through increased water prices. Beginning with a rise of about 20 per cent in July next year, average household bills are expected to double by 2012 to about $1000 a year.

The hike will push Melbourne's water prices from the cheapest in the country, to probably the most expensive. The First National Performance Report for Urban Water utilities, released last month , showed that Melbourne had the lowest annual typical residential bill for water and sewage services at $473, and Perth the highest at $750.

Experts say the increased cost may encourage consumers to further reduce their water consumption, but community advocates are urging caution in the roll-out of the price hike to protect low-income households.


ALL Melburnians and some regional Victorians will get some desalinated water when they turn on their taps after 2011. Desalinated water will be piped 85 kilometres from the plant near Wonthaggi, pumped into Melbourne's drinking water supplies at the Cardinia Reservoir and then fed into Silvan Reservoir. Separate pipelines will supply desalinated drinking water to residents in South Gippsland, Western Port and Geelong.

In terms of taste, Perth residents started drinking desalinated water earlier this year and reported to The Age that they could not distinguish it from their previous supplies.


Victoria's coastline along Williamsons Beach, east of Kilcunda, has variously been described over the past few days as magnificent, pristine and unspoilt. Not for long.

There is no doubt that a large industrial plant on a 20-hectare site near the coastline will change those views. Melbourne Water's feasibility study, which recommended the Gippsland site over three other options, found "a high risk of visual impacts due to the local landscape".
And coastal residents in the area say that their expansive rural views looking north will be transformed - into views of a large concrete water factory.

The land in question sits on a stretch of coast road from Anderson to Inverloch. At present, it remains a narrow, single-lane country road but, with increased use, some developers have been calling for an upgrade to a dual carriageway. The arrival of a desalination plant may grant their wish.


Brine is is waste byproduct of desalination and about twice as salty as normal seawater. If the Wonthaggi plant produces 150 billion litres of drinking water each year, as planned, it will pump 200 billion litres of salty concentrate back into the ocean.

Releasing brine into the ocean is seen as less damaging than putting it into a more ecologically-sensitive system such as a bay. But until detailed environmental assessments are carried out, planned over the next two years, the impacts on this site are unknown.

A pipeline will carry the brine one kilometre out to sea. Environmental concerns are lower at the Wonthaggi site because the ocean becomes deep relatively quickly. The deeper the water and the stronger the surf, the less likely the brine is to affect ocean flora and fauna.


Port Phillip Bay may be a great place to go sailing, but it seems it is not the best place for desalination. A Melbourne Water feasibility study into the plant considered four locations: the Surf Coast, Western Port and Port Phillip bays and the Bass Coast.

The bays were ruled out because of the environmental impact of discharging the brine into shallow or poorly circulating waters. There were also concerns at Western Port about the impact on the Ramsar wetlands, home to 350 native plant and 330 native animal species.

A line was drawn through the Surf Coast option largely because of the high cost of altering local infrastructure. With major storage reservoirs located to the east of Melbourne, the city's water infrastructure runs east to west.

By a process of elimination, the Bass Coast between Kilcunda and Wonthaggi emerged as the preferred site. It is located close to deep ocean water, making it suitable for drawing water and dispersing brine.

Commentators have also pointed out a political imperative for the Wonthaggi location. While the Surf Coast is Labor land, South Gippsland is Liberal country.


One of the main attractions of desalination is that it does not need reliable rainfall, something Melbourne has not had for the past decade. Yet desalination is also one of the most power-hungry forms of supplying water.

A feasibility study for Melbourne Water estimates that producing 150 billion litres of water a year from the Wonthaggi plant would require about 90 megawatts of electricity annually, or about a fifth of the capacity of a typical coal-power plant.

Aiming to make the plant "carbon neutral" - that is, to entirely offset the extra 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions generated from the increased drain on power from the national electricity grid - the State Government will sign agreements with new renewable energy facilities to feed enough power back into the grid to match the plant's annual consumption.

In practice, that is likely to mean around 150 new wind turbines will be built across the state.


Premier Steve Bracks told Victorians this week the $1 billion proposal to harvest stormwater from the Yarra River had been shelved. Investigations had found it was "not economically and environmentally viable for the future", he said.

Large-scale stormwater treatment would involve collecting, storing and treating stormwater to drinking water standards and blending it with drinking water sourced from rivers and reservoirs.

The Government proposed to harvest the stormwater at Dights Falls after heavy rainfall, then transfer it to Sugarloaf or Yan Yean Reservoir. Originally it was touted as a realistic solution, but the Government admitted this year that a feasibility study into capturing stormwater during floods could not be finished until 2009 and it was only a long-term solution.

But environmentalists argue that stormwater harvesting should be pursued in Melbourne. It would not only boost water supplies but aid the health of the Yarra.


In 2004 the WA Government announced it would be the first state to embrace desalination. WA's $387 million seawater plant is located at Kwinana, south of Perth, and is a joint venture between the Multiplex Group and French company Degremont, which provided the technical knowledge for the project.

The West Australian Water Corporation owns the plant and fully funded its construction. But it will be operated by Degremont for 25 years.

It was opened in November last year and became operational in April. The plant is the biggest outside the Middle East and the third largest in the world. It is powered wholly by the Emu Downs Wind Farm on the WA coast.

The plant will produce 17 per cent of Perth's water supply. The WA Government recently announced that a second plant would be built at Binningup, on the south-west coast, by 2011, to complement the Kwinana plant.

Earlier this year the New South Wales Government committed to a $1.9 billion, 180GL plant at Kurnell, south of Sydney. A 46GL plant has also been approved by the Queensland Government to be located on the Gold Coast, and South Australia is considering the suitability of desalination.
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