Water Journal : Water Journal September 2011
10 SEPTEMBER 2011 water The Case for Change is Clear Peter Walsh, Minister for Water and Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Victorian Government. The Victorian Coalition Government has embarked on a major reform of urban water policy in Victoria. As the state emerges from more than a decade of drought, water customers have found themselves lumbered with expensive, large-scale infrastructure projects -- the legacy of the previous Government, which failed to plan for the state's long-term water needs. Instead of augmenting the state's water supplies in a sensible and considered way, the former Labor Government panicked and signed Melbourne households up to the excessive 150-gigalitre Wonthaggi desalination plant. For the consortium building the plant, the contract is rolled gold. It will see customers paying $654 million net present value for the next 27.75 years -- irrespective of whether water is delivered or not. The $750 million North-South pipeline, which was built from the Goulburn River in the state's north to Sugarloaf Reservoir, has also proven to be a white elephant. In an average year, when Sugarloaf is operated in a way to maximise flows within its own catchment, the reservoir does not even have the capacity to store water from the North-South pipeline. With the city's population expected to increase from 4.1 million to 6.4 million by 2056 and the demand for potable water forecast to increase from 356 GL to more than 534 GL, the case for change is clear. Melbourne needs a more resilient and adaptable water system that is better equipped to live within its existing water supply resources. A Roadmap for the Future In January this year I appointed the Living Victoria Ministerial Advisory Council to provide strategic advice on the changes required to deliver the Coalition Government's policy. The council includes Mike Waller, immediate past chair of Sustainability Victoria, former Melbourne Water managing director, Rob Skinner, Melbourne City Council's director of city design, Rob Adams, and Strategies for Change managing director, Sue Holliday. The council delivered its initial report -- The Roadmap for Living Melbourne, Living Victoria -- in March. The roadmap identified priority areas of urban water reform for Melbourne and highlighted the higher level changes to the management of Victoria's urban water systems that the council believes are required to support more liveable communities. The analysis suggests a paradigm shift in the way we use water would significantly delay the need to undertake another large-scale augmentation of Melbourne's water supply system. For example, in 2009--10 only 10GL out of an available 463GL of stormwater was reused, while just 21GL of the 297GL of sewage was recycled for use on parks and gardens. Better integration of the city's water supplies also has the benefit of healthier urban waterways, more green space and a reduced heat island effect, all at a lower overall cost than offered by purely traditional water supply and demand solutions. The council's roadmap outlined a vision to: manage our water requirements using all of the water that comes into the system; make the system more open and transparent; support a more contestable water sector while retaining government ownership of water authorities; better integrate urban development planning processes and water planning processes; acknowledge the full costs and benefits of water services; embed water efficiency within the community; and deliver a more resilient and adaptable water system for Melbourne. In order to deliver this plan, the council mapped out a series of reform priorities, including: 1. Agree to a vision for the contribution of water to urban liveability, around which communities can agree how water resources are managed and used to create a more liveable and productive city; 2. Facilitate greater customer choice and innovation in the water services customers receive and charges they pay; 3. Improve the integration of urban and water planning to address water, energy and sustainability issues that are more difficult to address at smaller scales (eg, single buildings); 4. Optimise the use of all available water sources by taking a 'whole of system' view that considers all options; 5. Establish clear environmental and health outcomes for all aspects of water supply, use and treatment; 6. Establish a common approach to economic evaluation that accounts for the full costs and benefits of different options; 7. Review approaches to the pricing and valuing of all water resources so that we value the water resource itself and reward customers for conserving water; and 8. Strengthen the current institutional and governance arrangements so that information about service opportunities is open to all, and each element of the water system can play its part in delivering the best outcomes for the community. It is a thorough process and one which I believe will lead to a transformation of Victoria's urban water system. my point of view regular features As with other eastern Australian states, recent decades have seen Victoria face extreme climatic conditions that have posed significant challenges for the water sector. For this issue's 'My Point Of View' we asked Peter Walsh, Victorian Minister for Water, and John Lenders, Leader of the Labor Party in Legislative Council and Labor Spokesman for Water, for their views on how the state's urban water system can best be managed to ensure future water security.
Water Journal November 2011
Water Journal August 2011