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.
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.