Sunday, 6 January 2008

governments just don't get it … case study

In 2007 the Victorian Government decided to build a desalination plant to help 'future-proof' our state against water shortages.
It resolved - in advance! - to build this plant irrespective of community concerns and environmental impacts.
Over the past 12 months or so, Victorian consumers - residential and commercial - have reduced their 'freshwater' consumption by 22%; these savings will only increase.
This new-found thrift is largely negated as …
(1) incalculable volumes of water leak from tired and broken distribution infrastructure which is patched up on an ad hoc basis by a small number of underresourced maintenance crews;
(2) our government continues to advocate the sale of our groundwater to private enterprise (primarily for bottling for the retail market) at discounted rates, bloating their already hefty revenue streams.
Impressive, huh?

Reprocessing sea-water, especially using creaky old fossil-fuel technology, generates massive amounts of greenhouse gases.
Even if the project adopted 'clean' technology to capture and recycle / store this waste (which would add to the cost in dollar terms), it's a fact that vast quantities of fuel will be used up to satisfy the market 'demand' for fresh water.
Even from an 'accounting' perspective, desal water is many times more expensive to acquire, manage and deliver.
Perhaps someone could explain to me how this plan 'future-proofs' our state against greenhouse effects and energy shortages?

The desal plant is currently costed at three billion dollars.
Given governments' long-standing proclivity to under-budget and faff around with our money I'm guessing a bottom line of six billion when it's completed - but let's stick with the estimate.
I can go out and buy a good-quality 5000 litre rainwater tank for A$1300 - retail. (Well, I could if I had the money.)
If the government issued a tender a for million of these, they would probably cost the taxpayer around $300 each.
$300 x (say) 1 million households (in Victoria) = $3 billion. Same as the desal option.

Yes, I'm suggesting that our government 'gives' every household in Victoria a 5000L rainwater tank.
If a householder can afford to 'upsize' for more storage, they can pay the difference.
Likewise, the end-user pays for the associated infrastructure to connect to distribution points.
In both cases, the aforementioned economies of scale will apply.

I'm not claiming this initiative is perfect.
Manufacturing and distributing these tanks will cast a long 'greenhouse' shadow.*
5000 litres of storage will not make most households self-sufficient for water.
Yet the nett potential benefits are massive! …
High-quality drinking water, as opposed to a lifeless collection of reprocessed molecules.
Minimal infrastructure; minimal maintenance (all at absolutely no cost to the taxpayer).
A strong incentive for end-users to optimise every drop of the precious resource 'they' collected and now own and manage.

Will it happen? Not without some fresh thinking. Not without (excuse the cliché) a paradigm shift: a concession by our lawmakers that it's OK to hand back a measure of control to citizens.

As things stand, they just don't get it.

* I'm guessing that a blanket ban on retail bottled water would completely offset the carbon footprint of a million large plastic tanks - but that's another discussion.


tc said...

Couple of issues from your post that I have to comment on.

1. Business customers (private enterprise) pay more for fresh water than residential customers. They also use less overall (as a percentage) than residential customers.
2. Businesses do more for saving water than any other group. i.e. places like Visy Cardboard are at the forefront of water conservation in business becuase using less water = less business expense.
3. A 5000 litre rainwater tank would have minimal impact. Most garden hoses use 1000 litres per hour. So, a 5000 litre rainwater tank could potentially be emptied within days of it raining.
4. You actually need rain to fill the tank. The reason why catchments are low is because there is not enough rain! Period. Don't argue about their location, how many there are etc..
5. Apart from the desal plant, the Vic Govt is also committing many $$ to repair and replace the existing tired and unreliable infrastructure.
6. Adavancements in energy creation could soon one day see the desal plant being 'driven' by tidal turbines at the mouth of the bay. Very minimal greenhouse effects.
7. I think the current watersmart rebates for tank purchases and/or installs are quite generous.
8. In respect to rainwater tanks are any other conservation measures, why should we rely on Governemnts to help us out or give handouts. We should be making more concious decisions in our own lives. Why not just buy a rainwater tank instead of a plasma. Remember, the Vic govt has introduced new building regs that require energy efficiency standards that normally result in rainwater tank installs. We have to start accepting responsibility for conservation - don't always expect and rely on Govt to help us in areas we can help ourselves.

call me Jed (not Mr Plow) said...

Thanks, tc.
You probably realise this already, but I'll just confirm that we're pretty much on the same page.
My original observations stand: you have simply added some extra dimensions to the discussion.
Regarding your specific points:
1 and 2: no argument. (I'm not anti-business but very big on user-pays).
3. I can't comment on your water consumption habits but the entire thrust of this post is about efficiency and THRIFT!
My household (2 adults; 1 child) is dependent on mains water and uses 215 litres a day (in winter) and 300 litres a day in summer. Over the past 3 years we have reduced our consumption by 40% and continually seek improvements.
A rainfall of 20mm on a 250 sq. metre roof will fill a 5000 litre tank.
Depending on the rainfall in a locality shortfall in supply is supplemented by mains (if available).
Isolated country people have been largely self-sufficient in water for more than a century: it ain't rocket science.
4. I'm not arguing (your word)! Just suggesting that we do more with the little we get.
5. Believe what you will. I could report many instances of infrastructure neglect. I look forward to this being tightened up.
6. Yep, with you on the tidal power; won't hold my breath waiting for it. Would you like to predict when this will happen?
7. No argument.
8. I think your last post really encompasses an important point of difference. I'm not approaching this issue from a 'handout' mentality! Rather, I'm looking at improvements in infrastructure efficiency.
Remember, at the end of the day, it's our money the governments are spending.
As with energy production and consumption, harvesting and using water at the local (household / community) level offers significant efficiency gains.