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Desalination - when bulemic sprawl exceeds carrying capacity

Eagle's Nest in Bunurong Marine Park between Cape Paterson and Wonthaggi, South Gippsland, Victoria

Fresh water dam capacity is a known determinant of a dependent population's capacity. Once dam levels drop below critical levels, water demand has clearly exceeded supply. So logically, rationally, naturally, excessive demand ought to be tempered and curtailed. This is what rationally follows in macroeconomics, like when Australia's Reserve Bank increases interest rates to dampen excess demand. It doesn't suggest we import more.

But governments think they can spin their own reality and now employ communication consultants to evangelise a 'can do' positivism mantra - irrespective of potentially adverse social and ecological consequences. Who considers the impacts of those judgments and decisions on local families and local ecology?

In Melbourne's case, the Brumby Government seems deeply headlong into some artificial life support to perpeatuate Melbourne's population growth. Where's the rationale?
Otherwise, blind unguided, not though through support of Federal mass-immigration pressures the need for 'desalination' as magic pudding panacea for a tide to which the government has set no high water mark - bit risk these days?.

It's Greenspan's 'irrational exuberance' infesting population growth by Brumby's kneejerk, shortsighted and downright undemocratic Victorian Government. But it has nothing to do with central banking in a democratic society, but everything to do with worshipping some growth divinity, and in the process prepared to sacrifice important ecology and Wonthaggi rural amenity values. Is this Brumby's 'pagan-inspired' sprawl infesting Melbourne's still rural outer fringe?

The Brumby Government's unelaborated growth fetish appears too narrowly focused on the supply end of the problem, yet strangely it denies and ignores the obvious root cause and driver of the growth problem - excessive demand. The prime cause of that increasing demand is our federal government's exuberance to maximise immigration.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics "at June 2008 there were an estimated 3.9 million people residing in the Melbourne ('Statistical Division'), an increase of 74,600 people or 2.0% since June 2007. Melbourne SD experienced the largest growth of all Australian capital city SDs for the year to June 2008. Melbourne SD accounted for 81% of Victoria's population growth between June 2007 and June 2008, and was home to 73% of Victoria's population."

The largest growth areas are on the new 'sprawlskirts' of Melbourne at the local government areas of Wyndham, Casey, Melton, Whittlesea and Hume. The fastest growth areas are Wyndham, Melton, Cardinia, and Whittlesea, plus with the increasing highrise in the central Melbourne itself.

The prime driver of urban population growth is immigration, current peaking into Australia at 400,000 net this year. That is two new Geelongs every year! Illogically, federal and state governments are hell bent on maximising this immigration and so exacerbating the demand problem.

By resorting to water supply from desalination, which has been shown to extravagant in terms of borrowing costs, in its massive continuous energy demand, and in its wastefulness (byproducts of salts, chemicals and organic sludge), the Brumby government is effectively acknowledging that Melbourne's population is outstripping water resource capacity. Melbourne is simply living beyond its means.

Every time we push the natural boundary of what this country can naturally sustain, we damage it and lower our living standards by allowing more people to exploit the same natural resources - land, water, energy, etc. It's as if our politicians compare us to Hong Kong and have a Hong Kong vision for Australians. Well then they can bloody well go and live in Hong Kong on their credit cards, as long as we don't have to fund them.

It's time that triple bottom line scorecard reporting was applied to measure and reward government performance, rather than locked in the spin government PR. Australia's ecological health and Australians' living standards need to be measured and factored into political performance in quarterly results. What's the benefit in economic growth numbers like say 100,000 new dwellings approved for the quarter, when the Thomson Dam keeps reducing its water capacity and the state is debt burdened with an additional $3 billion to fund a 'desal' plant at Wonthaggi?

And we need to question this 'greater good' utilitarian mindset. At Wonthaggi, the Bunurong Marine Park and Coastal Reserve and Wonthaggi's rural community seem sacrificable for the 'greater' Melbourne? To exploit locals for a greater good is morally wrong. And where is that 'greater' obese Melbourne to end in 50 years time?

This is indeed 'so wrong'. Brumby is doggedly locked in an extravagant and immensely damaging 1950s mindset.

Snowy River Lessons

This $3.5 billion desal plant (pre-blowout estimate) is comparable to the Snowy River Scheme commenced in post-WWII 1949. This growth inspired scheme cost $1.16 billion (possibly $7 billion in today's money) to add resource capacity for a growing post-war population. But in the process, the Snowy Scheme tragically castrated the Snowy's wildness and its legend to a trickle. "The creation of the huge Eucumbene, Jindabyne, Blowering and Jounama reservoirs resulted in the flooding of thousands of hectares of land. Two whole towns, Adaminaby and Jindabyne, and numerous farms and homesteads were inundated. Thousands of years of Aboriginal history were also lost beneath the waters. Both Adaminaby and Jindabyne were rebuilt nearby as new towns that were heralded as modern and comfortable. People were compensated by the Authority for their losses and relocated."


The Snowy Scheme did employ hundreds at the time, but destroyed the Snowy, Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers and the way of life of hundreds of established pastoral families that for generations had livelihoods dependant upon these vital flowing rivers.

Fifty years later, a repeat of the Victorian government growth driven 'irrational exuberance' now imposes its undemocratic will on the rural Wonthaggi community and its surrounding natural environment. It is so again an obese Melbourne can exceed its capacity and become even morbidly obese. This is nothing but a government infatuated growth disorder akin to 'bulemic sprawl'.

And Brumby has no ultimate vision as to where this is all leading. He will be Parliamentary pensioned off by that time and he won't care.

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Nature's bounty has been generous with heavy rains this September. Even so, Victorian Water Minister Tim Holding is preaching to the people of Victoria to be "realistic" about our water supplies! Our water storages were 95 per cent-plus full in the mid-1990s. However, Melbourne's population in 1995 was estimated as 3,243,000. It has recently surpassed 4 million. Melbourne is expanding by an unprecedented 90,000 people a year, or more than 1700 a week. Melbourne’s population is growing and will be home to five million people faster than previously anticipated.

Melbourne is projected to grow by an average 1.2% per year to 6.8 million in 2056. At this rate of expansion, it would be “realistic” to increase our water supplies by at least the same rate as population growth! Relying on Nature to provide increasing water supplies at a time of prolonged drought will is not realistic!

Our coastlines will need to be littered with desalination plants, and our water costs will continue to escalate. The population growth phenomenon is cruel, corrupt and unrealistic and it will lock the public into debt, even for water, an essential for life.

Yes, the Victorian government is cruel and serves the interests of the rich and materialistic, turning its back on democracy and decency.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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Holding, we'll cut back when you do

A STUDY has revealed that an extra million people living in Melbourne will ''end in chaos'' (The Age, 10/10). It appears that Melbourne's roads will not cope with the increase in population.

Then there was the article about water needs (''Spring rain a fillip for dam levels'') and Tim Holding's intention to extract 10 billion litres from the Thomson River. He went on to implore that households cut back on water consumption.

I find this rather disingenuous, given that Mr Holding is a member of John Brumby's pro-population growth Government. Water savings by Melburnians are being squandered by the State Government's profligate approach to population growth. Any surplus saved water should be used to conserve Melbourne's parks and gardens.

Instead, the amenity of our urban and suburban environment is diminished by the growth-at-any-cost attitude of the Brumby and Rudd governments.

Victorians do their best by saving water, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and recycling. These efforts will prove futile when measured against an increased total use of resources due to population increase.

Tim Holding's exhortation that households cut back should be matched with an appropriate policy on population.

Nicholas Howe, Malvern