LOCAL desalination plant opponents say the State Government’s decision to make an initial water order from the site is “half-baked” and “purely political”.
Water minister Lisa Neville announced on Sunday that 50 gigalitres would be ordered from the plant, despite Melbourne’s water storages sitting two-thirds full.
The move is expected to add $12 a year to water bills and ease the burden on storages state-wide.
Bass Coast councillor Neil Rankine said the government’s decision is disappointing because it has ruled out “better options of sourcing water”.
“Having water restrictions in place at appropriate times, harvesting of stormwater, water recycling… these are all cheaper options but unfortunately it cost $6 billion or whatever was spent to build this thing so the government is obviously going to want to use it,” Cr Rankine said.
“I think they have decided to turn (the plant) on purely for political reasons.
“They want people to think we actually need the thing.
“If Melbourne’s storages are two-thirds full… that’s a long way off from being a serious situation.”
Watershed Victoria president Mark Robertson said he wasn’t surprised by the announcement.
“Ever since the Labor Government got back in they’ve been itching to use the plant and show it off,” he said.
“It’s a half-baked decision to justify their insurance policy, and I don’t think it’s a good enough reason.”
Mr Robertson said too many questions regarding the environmental impacts of the plant remain unanswered.
“Several months ago I wrote to the Premier outlining Watershed Victoria’s continuing concerns about the environmental impacts of the plant on our bountiful and precious marine life,” he continued.
“I was told Lisa Neville would respond to our concerns, but she hasn’t.”
Mr Robertson said it’s also time to start asking more questions about the lack of ‘promised’ infrastructure projects that never eventuated in Wonthaggi following the plant’s construction.
“We were promised the hospital would be upgraded to sub-regional status – we’re still waiting.
“This and other promises were very prominent in the media at the time.
“But all they’ve done is finish fixing some of the roads back up.”
Farmers on their own
Meanwhile, Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, said South Gippslanders should not be fooled by any suggestion that the desalination plant’s water order would impact the proposed Northern Towns project.
“The Northern Towns Project would connect Korumburra, Loch, Nyora and Poowong to the Lance Creek Reservoir and thus to the Melbourne system; it does not require desalination water,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Labor is desperately trying to justify its vastly expensive desal plant and the spin over the weekend and this morning is that South Gippsland could be topped up from the desal.
“The business case for the Northern Towns Project makes it clear that this is not about connecting Korumburra and the northern towns to the desalination plant and Labor needs to stop spinning to justify turning on the desal plant.
“On radio this morning, Minister Lisa Neville said the Northern Towns connection project was being considered as part of the budget process.
“The government should be funding this project as part of its water plan and I hope it will proceed irrespective of decisions surrounding desal water.”
Mr O’Brien also said while many farmers in South Gippsland were doing it tough due to drought, the desal plant would not help.
“We need to be very clear on this. Most farmers are not on town water and do not have the infrastructure to get piped water from the desal plant onto their properties.
“It is just a fallacy that switching on the desal could help farmers in South Gippsland,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I am exploring alternative arrangements with the government to assist those farmers who are really struggling but desal water is not one of them.
“Even if desal water could be delivered to farms, it would be prohibitively expensive.
“It’s just not feasible.”