Friday, October 22, 2010

A better solution for water

Here is a copy of our domestic water bill for 2 February 2010.

We have 23,000 litres of water tanks in Surrey Hills and are almost completely self-sufficient for water - as you can see by the information on this bill, including:

  • 4 litres per person per day for November to Jan 2010 (compared with the government target of 155)
  • 0 liters per person per day over the periods may to October 2009.
Yet the Victorian Minister Tim Holding has stated that "water tanks are not an effective solution" and Premier John Brumby as stated that "water tanks would have higher carbon emissions than the desalination plant".  

Neither have responded to my letters informing them that they are wrong on both counts - despite me providing evidence that proves my point.

The Brumby government panicked during 2008-2009 when the drought was severe, and threw 10 years of water strategy and community consultation focused on recycling water and conserving it in the bin.

Instead the Brumby government has:
  • Built the north-south pipeline at considerable cost that takes water from the deprived Murray Darling basin.
  • Commissioned the world's largest desalination plant which will cost around $5 billion to build, and residents will have to pay the private consortium "returns" even if they don't produce water
There was no community consultation about either project and the huge environmental impacts of both have been basically ignored. "Parliamentary rule" from Spring Street is not democracy - its dodgy business deals that deliver really bad outcomes that we all have to end up paying for decades to come.

If the government had commissioned recycling and storm water capture instead, we could have avoided the expense and environmental impacts of both these projects.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Agreement to exit native forest logging in Tasmania

An historic deal that will end logging of Tasmania's native forests was reported today.

Following lengthy talks between industry, union and environment groups, an agreement between them has just been struck, and a joint statement of principles issued, that includes:

  • Recognising the need to protect high conservation value forests and end ''industrial forestry'' of them in a timeframe to be agreed
  • Restricting the burning of timber as biomass fuel to material sourced from plantations only
  • Moving to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill"
  • The logging of some specialty timbers from these forests for purposes such as craftwood is allowed.
This is great news for Tasmania's remaining native forests, and potentially ends decades of conflict over the logging of native forests.

It is interesting to note that no politicians were involved in brokering the agreement.  Forests have been a "political football" for some time, with both Labor and Liberal governments supporting their ongoing destruction for decades and ignoring the wishes of over 80% of the Australian population that want them protected.

There are many factors that have contributed to this outcome, including:
  • Continued job losses within the native forest logging industry, despite ongoing access to native forests
  • Gunns Corporation exiting native forest logging due to the unwillingness of Japanese buyers to purchase woodchips that are not subject to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forestry practices
  • The rising strength of the Australian dollar making export of woodchips unprofitable.
  • Declining availability of native forests has forced governments to move loggers into highly contentious forest areas, which has provoked serious ongoing conflicts.
  • A realisation that plantations can provide a much more reliable supply of wood with greatly reduced environmental impact - but only if they are appropriately managed.
  • There is enough hardwood and softwood plantation resource currently available to enable industry transition out of native forests.
This follows the end of industrial-scale native forest logging in Queensland and Western Australia in the late 90s.  

This agreement clearly sets a precedent for exiting native forest logging in Victoria and New South Wales too, where factors very similar to those in Tasmania are also relevant.

It is to be hoped that industry, union and environment groups in New South Wales and Victoria can achieve a similar excellent outcome after years of similar conflict and declining jobs in the native forest logging sector. 

Forest protection is big issue in the upcoming 2010 Victorian State election.  The Brumby government protected around 41,000 hectares of forest in September 2010, but this included many areas that were not high conservation-value forests (only around 11,000 hectare were old growth forests), and left many other high quality forest areas such as Brown Mountain unprotected from logging.

A compromised political outcome that only protects Melbourne's water catchments (less than 2% of Victoria's native forests logged annually) - will not be good enough.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Water and the Murray Darling river system

We have recently seen the Murray Darling river system - Australia's greatest river system - drastically affected by reduced water flow due to the combined effects of climate change and irrigation from the river.

For several years the Murray River stopped flowing into the sea.  Barrages (like dams) are in place to stop seawater  moving backup through the lower lakes and river systems, including the wonderful Coorong.  If saltwater were to do this, the freshwater ecology of these parts of the system would be greatly damaged.

The drought that lasted over 10 years exceeded all wort-case estimates by climatologists and weather experts.  It has been broken in 2010, but the underlying causes for it have not gone away, and this cycle could be repeated within the next decade.

The drought drastically reduced water flows.  Many farmers with water allocations ("rights") along the river simply could not get their water.  Orchards, vineyards and dairies relying on water from the river had to shut down or close, and many commercial trees and agricultural crops died.

There is no point having water rights if there is no water.

The Wentworth Group of Scientists warned of this scenario over a decade ago, but their warnings and recommendations were ignored by governments and policy makers.  There has been much talk about "doing something" to restore desperately needed environmental flows to the river system, but very little effective action to date.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has now commenced community engagement about actions and recommendations to restore environmental flows the river system.  They have released the a Guide to the Basin Plan document.

Some of the proposal and information on the guide include:
  • Proposed basin-wide cuts to water extraction of 27 to 37 per cent.
  • $9 billion has been allocated to buy back water allocations
  • No one will be forced to sell water
  • In many river valleys a lot of the reductions in water allocations has already occurred
  • Two-thirds of the minimum 3000-gigalitre reduction will be achieved by 2014 through programs already in train.
  • The amount of additional surface water needed for the environment is between 3,000 GL/y and 7,600 GL/y (longterm average).
  • The current average volume of water provided to the environment is about 19,100 GL/y, so this range of additional water would mean that the long-term average volume of water provided to the environment would be between 22,100 GL/y and 26,700 GL/y.
The guide details possible water reductions required in numerous regions within the basin.  This has generated major concern within rural communities within many regions, who fear that reduced water allocations will have drastic financial impacts on agricultural producers and the local economy and towns they support.
This will certainly be the case - but similar impacts have occurred, and will occur again, when water in the river system becomes scarce again.

There have been loud and irrational outbursts at public consultation and meeting and directed and the Federal Government , the Water Minister and numerous other members of parliament.

It is worth noting that so far only a guide to the plan has been release, not any binding plan or commitments.  This is being misrepresented by emotive claims by some rural commentators - and federal politicians such as Senator Barnaby Joyce - that "this plan (sic) will lead to the decimation of rural agriculture and country towns".  This is not consultation or a debate - this is a beat up.

Cotton, rice and vineyards all produce crops and products that require vast amounts of water (more information).  Ditto for dairies. I think it is clear that this type of production should happen in regions that have sufficient available rainfall, rather than chronically depleting a river system.

It is not hard to see why there has been no effective action on restoring environmental flows in this river system to date.  Any attempts to do so are met with a barrage of emotion and accusations, which in the past have  lead to major water reforms being shelved.

It is to be hoped that the current water reform process doesn't suffer the same fate.  Otherwise the next severe drought will cause decimation of rural agriculture and country towns along with like death of much of the ecology of the river system.

The new parliamentary committee for regional Australia, chaired by independent MP Tony Windsor whose electorate will be affected by the plan, appears  likely head up a parliamentary inquiry into the social and economic effects of the proposed cuts.  Let's hope he acts in the best interests of all Australians in doing so.

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