Modia Minotaur

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere ...

I had wondered whether I should set time aside to discuss the return of desalination to the agenda - but coming across this page by sheer coincidence convinced me that I should have at least a small word.

A little less than a year ago, I felt that I was going out on a limb in defending desalination. How much difference a-little-less-than-a-year makes. Now, the government is not only openly proclaiming that desalination must be part of NSW's response to the drought, but the Opposition is also conceding this (though they currently appear to be scrambling for the new weasel-word name to distance themselves from the earlier controversies - will it be Freshwater Factory, Water Clarification Service, Water Demineralisation Centre ... )

Desalination is a policy that should have gone ahead when it was first proposed - as, let's not forget, a last resort should dams hit record lows, as they have now, at approximately the time it was predicted they would when the idea first came up. Scaremongering and misinterpretation led the policy to be ditched, or at least backgrounded. Now, with no apparent irony, the same sectors who wouldn't touch desalination with a barge pole are now demanding why the government didn't begin addressing the problem eighteen months ago ...

What are the lessons here? In my original post, which I linked above, I made much of the fact that misinformed or badly informed people can sometimes push governments into making silly decisions as a kneejerk reaction. But is this a fault of the people, or of the government? If the government had stuck to its guns and waited for the cries to die down, it wouldn't now be facing louder cries and more demanding problems.

I once heard the success of former NSW premier Neville Wran defined as his ability to know what the public could handle, and then push them just a little bit further. This is also a good working definition for progressive politics. Democracy is not always listening to the voices of the people, and making decisions based on how many Yays and how many Nays; what the latest News Poll says. Certainly, public sentiment should be a guiding principle, but a strong government succeeds by knowing not only what the public wants, but how best to deliver it to them. Making plans that are unpopular in the long term is sometimes - provided, of course, that they are sound plans - the only way to keep people happy in the long run.


At 10:09 pm, Blogger Denis Wilson said...

Nice Posting. Over at "The Nature of Robertson",(in the Southern Highlands of NSW)I have been rabbitting on since February about the crazy proposal to pump pristine "mineral water" (which Cocal Cola is selling for about $2:50 per bottle - from sources in Robertson) down the Nepean River, to top up supplies which then get used to flush toilets, and for Industial use. All this at a cool $150 m (estimated cost). And for a net gain of 7 days worth of water for Sydney per year's worth of pumping. It is economic madness.

It is also environmental vandalism. Why do it? Because it is easy for them to do. Having drilled enough "test holes" (actuially large diameter production bores, they just hook up a dozen Honda generators and some pumps), and run the pristine (bottle quality) Mineral Water through a pipe into the nearest creek.

But for a net gain of a top-up of 7 days water supply, it is a nonsense.

I say bring on the Desalination Plant, but for Gods sake, power it with green power, or solar, or even better wave energy - there is pilot plant already working at Wollongong.

Denis Wilson

At 8:18 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

Industry really should be the next frontier in addressing the water crisis - as always, the economic case is always taken to make any other case redundant, yet as you say, the economic case itself is often pretty suspect.

Taking on Coke will be one thing, but what about all the farmers who can't see why growing rice and cotton in a climate like ours isn't the greatest idea in the world? Given the additional inter-state issues, I'll be interested to hear the Federal Opposition's water strategy as filtered (no pun intended) through Rudd's pledge to put an end to interstate and state-Federal squabbling.

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