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Massive investments that are not climate dependent

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Associate Professor Greg Leslie from the University of NSW looks at the massive investment in water infrastructure currently underway across Australia, investment that are not climate dependent.    
By far, the most ambitious project is what is happening in south-east Queensland. With less predictable rainfall patterns in the last ten years, and being the fastest growing region in Australia, there was always going to be pressure on the demand side of water consumption.
With water levels in dams dropping to 20% of capacity, the state government, councils and the Queensland Water Commission encouraged water conservation. A highly successful campaign had a major impact on water consumption in the region, dropping from 300 litres per person per day to just 130 litres per person per day. Given that a major centre like Sydney has pockets of water consumption ranging from 280 litres per person per day up to 400 litres per person per day, south-east Queensland is a modern day success story.

Queensland has also embarked on a water grid plan, consisting of a desalination plant on the Gold Coast along with water treatment plants for recycling water. Some of these elements are already operating, with a power station using recycled waste water. The state government has yet to announce the dam trigger levels, which will be the signal to direct recycled waste water back into the dams.

It seems that the news across Australia on a crisis in water levels has dampened opposition to drinking recycled water.
Western Australia is going down the desalination path, with a second plant under construction and the state government is looking at a third, supplemented by storm water capture and water recycling.
Adelaide has a desalination plant in the design and tendering phase.
Melbourne will build the largest desalination plant in the world. Melbourne also plans to build a controversial pipeline from the Goulburn River a Melbourne reservoir.
Sydney’s desalination plant will be finished towards the end of this year. There are other projects that do not rely on desalination. Western Sydney has a recycling scheme, putting recycled waste water recycled back into the Nepean River below Warragamba Dam. This means that potable water from the dam won’t have to be released to keep the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers flowing.
In new residential developments, the third pipe scheme that allows residences to be provided with potable water from the dam as well as recycled water for non-potable use, is being expanded. New residences in the north-west and south-west form the backbone of the scheme, with Camellia Gardens being the largest area.

In Western Australia, the Emu Downs wind farm generates electricity which is put into the grid, offsetting the energy used for the gas powered desalination plant. Melbourne has just started the 155 campaign (155 litres per person per day), requiring a big change in consumer behaviour.

Greg Leslie likens the move towards greener energy use in water consumption to the consequences of the 1973 oil embargo and oil crisis. Cars back then were horribly inefficient with fuel, something which has since been addressed. Now that economies will soon be constrained by carbon emissions, people will look closely at how much green power is around.

A price on carbon will create a demand for energy sources that do not add to greenhouse emissions. Many Australian water projects will benefit from that carbon constraint.

Text: V.B. April 2009

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