Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sustainable transport solutions are what we need

As I live in and travel about Melbourne, Australia, I ponder over our fixation on building, expanding and connecting more roads and freeways.

Melbourne traffic is grinding to a halt both on and off the freeways for much of the working day in many areas. Every freeway suffers big traffic jams as many use them to commute to work in their own cars, often as the single occupant.

It was apparent on my first visit to Los Angeles in the 1989 that a freeway system cannot function as an effective urban mass transit system. "Tailbacks" of waiting cars form, accidents happen, and tonnes of greenhouse gases are emitted by the vehicles using them.

Yet here in Melbourne in 2007, Eastlink is moving towards completion, another two lanes are being added to the Monash freeway, the Westgate bridge is groaning under the weight of vehicles and often gridlocked, and the state government has flagged a likely project to build a very expensive tunnel ($8b) to connect the Eastern and Tullamarine freeways - despite the fact that most motorists don't want to travel between the two - they just want to get in and out of the city.

On the Monash freeway a small section of new sound barriers cost $8m, which is more than state's entire budget for cycle paths.

The entire Eastlink project is costing about $6b, but you cannot find out the exact figure as the project is being done as a "Public Private Partnership" (PPP) so the the financials are kept secret.

No new train lines have been built since the Glen Waverley line in 1937.

We need viable low carbon emission transport options such as trains and cycle paths. At this point, there is no real government action on either.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

A new climate change working group for Australia

With Kevin Rudd and Labor now settling into government it is encouraging to see all the states, territories and the Federal government at the recent COAG meeting agree to form seven working groups on important issues including health, infrastructure, and climate change.

I was getting rather sick of the perennial blame game between that Labor states and the previous Federal government, which culminated in a "jihad against the States" during the election campaign just passed.

I await with interest which minister will chair the working group on climate change and who will be on it. Hopefully some real action on climate change will start soon, and some of the carbon catastrophes of the States - like Victoria's desalination plant and Tasmania's pulp mill - can be reigned in and stopped.

We need urgent action to ensure or greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2015 then decline. We therefore need a moratorium on building any new coal fired power stations, and we need considerable investment in zero emissions energy.

Link: States, territories welcome new working partnership

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tap into alternatives

Published as a letter to the editor in The Age, Wed 19 December 1007

Cross posted at Forest Letter Watch Blog.

Water Minister Tim Holding's assertion (Letters, 17/12) that the Government's water plan is cost effective and sustainable is questionable. The proposed desalination plant will consume most of Victoria's available renewable energy, which will lend impetus to the Government's ill-advised plan to build yet another brown coal-fired power station.

Incredibly, the Government is still allowing logging in the Thomson catchment, decreasing the quality and quantity of our water. Last week, logging started in the Armstrong catchment, closer to Melbourne. Stopping this logging would be much cheaper than producing desalinated water.

In 2002 extensive public consultation led to a move to develop plans to stop logging our catchments. Five years later it is still business as usual.

Our Melbourne house has been almost self-sufficient for water for more than five years, with 23,000 litres of tank storage.

The $3 billion to be spent on the desalination plant could equip about 600,000 households with tank systems that could provide more water than the plant's estimated production. Combined with recycling sewerage water and protecting our catchments, we may not even need desalination.

We also need improved consultation about options for Victoria's water, rather than unilateral decisions made in Spring Street following deliberations behind closed doors.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The lunacy of logging in catchments continues

We have two 4,500 litre and one 13,500 litre rainwater tanks giving us a total of 22,500 litres of storage for rainwater collected from our roof. First flush diverters remove impurities in the water that first comes off the roof when it starts raining.

We don’t use a filter system and have had acceptable results from water quality tests conducted on our tankwater.

A Davey electric pump supplies the tankwater for all uses in the house including showers, the dishwasher, the laundry, the hot water system and garden watering.

We have additional tap for Melbourne water in the kitchen sink e for some drinking and cooking use.

There is another Melbourne water tap under the house that can be used to fill the rainwater tanks should they run out of water.

We filled the rainwater tanks in late 2001 when we moved in after the house renovation. We have only needed to add more Melbourne water on one occasion in 2002 and on two occasions early in 2007 during the severe drought. This means we have been basically self sufficient for water for around 5 years.

Based on Melbourne Water’s estimated daily average water usage of 303 litres per person (as of December 2007 with Stage 3A restrictions) this means we have saved around 0.3 megalitres of water per year and 1.5 megalitres of over five years.

If the $3 billion allocated by the Victorian Government for the desalination plant were spent on domestic rainwater tank systems, this would equip around 600,000 households (at a unit cost of $5,000 for a tank and pump) and could provide up to 160 gigalitres of water per year that would otherwise be lost as stormwater. This equates to 165 days of Melbourne’s total water consumption based on the current daily usage of 992 ml, and it exceeds the estimated yearly production of 150gl from the proposed desalination plant.

However, rainwater tank supplies are of course not guaranteed due to ongoing reduced rainfall patterns.

It would appear that we could be better off if a much smaller desalination plant (say $1billion) were built and the remaining $2 billion spent on rainwater tanks and improved recycling of sewerage water currently sent out from ocean outfalls.

At the very least, we need radically improved public consultation about options for Melbourne’s and Victoria’s water strategy rather than unilateral decisions made in Spring Street following secret deliberations.

Logging in catchments and Melbourne’s water supply

In May 2002, the Victorian Government released a repost titled 21st Century Melbourne: a WaterSmart City. Strategy Directions Report.

A majority of public submissions for the study stated that logging should cease in all water supply catchment areas due to the impact on water quality and the reduction in long term water yields.

The report contained a recommendation to conduct a detailed and comprehensive investigation into the feasibility of establishing plantations to allow for the phasing out of logging in Melbourne’s water supply catchments

The report further stated that if plantation alternatives are confirmed feasible, an implementation plan to phase out logging from within the catchments should be prepared.

Potential water savings from the gradual phasing out of logging in the Thomson catchment by 2020 were estimated to provide an estimated additional average annual volume of water of 20 gigalitres (20,000 ML) in 2050.

In June 2004, the Victorian government released another report titled Securing Our Water Future Together.

This report stated that Melbourne’s original water catchments are closed catchments, are managed as national parks and that logging will continue to be banned in those catchment areas. It was found that improved water yields within catchments supplying water to Melbourne are important in securing Melbourne’s water supplies.

Actions to be undertaken by the Government were to:

  • Undertake studies on the impact of logging on water yield of catchments in State forests supplying water to Melbourne;
  • Develop options aimed at improving the water yield, including potential changes to management practices and phasing out logging in these areas;
  • Assess the feasibility of establishing plantations outside State forests to offset any reductions in timber availability. This will be informed by the results of modelling and mapping work on high, medium and low-impact zones for plantations (refer Impacts of new plantation policy above); and
  • Investigate the economic, social and environmental benefits and costs of these options.
The report stated that the Government would report on the findings of these studies and begin consultation with the timber industry, the community, and other stakeholders to develop a long-term plan that will aim to improve water yield outcomes for Melbourne’s catchments, while continuing to meet timber supply commitments.

On 16 May 2007 Environment and Water Minister John Thwaites stated at a public meeting in Ashburton that “work on the report is still in progress”.

In December 2007:
  • The final report has not been issued and no date available for its release.
  • No further community consultation has occurred.
  • Logging continues unabated in Melbourne’s water catchments.
  • About 30 gigalitres of water is lost due to logging each year, which is equivalent to about 150,000 households’ usage.
On Thu 6/12/07 Water Minister Tim Holding stated on ABC radio (774) that “logging in catchments is a matter of balance between all stakeholders and the Government believes we have got this right” and did not comment on the status of the delayed final report on options for phasing out the logging of water catchments.

On June 19, 2007, in response to Melbourne’s dwindling water supplies, the Victorian government announced plans to build a $3 billion desalination plant at Wonthaggi to produce 150 gigalitres of water a year. The Victorian Government also announced that household water bills would double over the next five years to pay for a $4.9 billion water strategy to secure Melbourne's water supplies.

The water produced by the desalination plant would cost around $3000 a megalitre, based on Melbourne Water estimates, which means the net present value of the water gained by not logging the catchment, is between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion. The cost of compensating the loggers to quit the catchment areas would be less than $40 million.

Scientific evidence indicates ending clearfell logging in Melbourne's native water supply catchments would eventually create an additional 130 litres per household per day, equal to 16% of Melbourne's present consumption.

It is now obvious that there is absolutely no balance in the Victorian Government's support for the logging of our water catchments. It is way past time for this to cease.