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SEQ's Water Supples: A Comedy? - Email sent 12/11/09

Andrew Fraser
The Australian

Re: Safe for now, but there'll be a price, The Australian, 12/11/09

I noted your useful comments on the complex side effects of the decision by Mr Peter Garrett, the federal minister for the environment, to reject development of the Traveston Dam in SE Queensland on environmental grounds.

My interpretation of your article: Rejecting the Traveston Dam will have far reaching consequences. The needs of a turtle have been put ahead of 4m people in SE Queensland by federal environment minister. Thus Australia's fastest growing region will have no dedicated water reserves, Dams servicing 4.4m people in 20 years will be the same as those serving 1.6m 20 years ago. Wivenhoe Dam came on stream in the 1980s. The only other addition was Hinze Dam serving Gold Coast. With supplies constrained, costs will increase and alternatives (recycling / desalination) will be considered. Desalination plants (which the state government sees as the alternative) require huge amounts of energy. Recycled water is used industrially, and in a major drought might need to be consumed.

However, there is scope to further develop your theme, because:

  • Brisbane, the centre of Australia's fastest growing region, was arguably built in the wrong place - because of the region's lack of reliable water sources. Wivenhoe Dam, the region's main water storage, is not really suitable for water supply. It was built for flood mitigation and is subject to very large infrequent rain events, but lacks reliable ongoing rainfall (see High and Dry: Why?);
  • the Wolfdene dam-site, which might have provided more reliable supplies, was not preserved - apparently because the Goss Government had politicised / deskilled Queensland's public sector and thus (a) was unaware of the limitations of Wivenhoe Dam; and thus (b) could not see the need for further storages in SE Queensland (see Paying the Price of Ineffectual Public Administration);
  • the fate of the Traveston Dam proposal was determined on environmental grounds, though its engineering suitability as a water supply source seemed anything but certain. It is seldom good practice to build a shallow storage on an alluvial plain (see attached email, Traveston Dam: The Weirdness Continues);
  • desalinated water, which seems to be the alternative for SE Queensland's water supplies, is subjected to health and environmental concerns which do not seem to have been mentioned by Mr Garrett in relation to his decision (see notes following this email).

It could be worth another story.

John Craig

Some Notes on the Desalination Alternative

Demineralised / desalinated water seems not to be suitable for drinking without enhancement by the addition of minerals. Demineralised water (a) is highly aggressive and can't be distributed through pipes and tanks, as it leaches metals and other materials from pipes; (b) has poor taste characteristics; (c) lacks minerals that are necessary for human health. In some parts of the Middle East and Central Asia desalination provides up to 50% of water. Preliminary studies have been made of the adverse health effects of drinking demineralised water. Addition of minerals is necessary ( Kozisek F 'Health Risks from Drinking Demineralised Water, WHO, 2004)

Desalination (which is growing rapidly world-wide) involves high energy usage - which raises greenhouse concerns, and has very significant regional environmental impacts, eg destruction of large areas of ocean floor associated with high resulting concentrations of salt and other contaminants (Dolnicar S and Schafer A 'Desalination and Recycling: Australians raise health, environmental and cost concerns)

Responses + Responses

Political 'Conspiracies'?

One cynical observer raised the possibility, in response to the above email, of political 'conspiracies' in decisions related to Traveston Dam.

"You might remember that a short time ago we had a visit from Rudd. Clearly he was here to gauge political opinion on Traveston and must have found Bligh to be a loser who would undermine his plans so he cut her.

Rudd is determined to not be a one term Prime Minister like Whitlam and he is a much better infighter than Whitlam. He is ruthless and Bligh did not see it coming from her party mate. Incredible lapse of judgment.

The message for the LNP is who is: the next cab off the rank and how they can retrieve the Rudd led operation. They are so stupid that they have probably not yet understood the implications of the Rudd move.

The Wolfdene dam would now be full if it had been built. The message about the incompetence of the pull-out at Wolfdene needs to be rammed home. The ability to build a dam there has unfortunately now been lost

Hear on radio that they now want to raise the height of Wivenhoe amongst others. Remember that there was a government report under Borbidge that delineated all streams and dam sites in Queensland. The LNP needs to get its hands on this report. Maybe it has been pulped ....... "

The present writer has no basis for expressing an opinion about such suggestions.

However there is another conspiratorial possibility. As noted in Traveston Dam: The Weirdness Continues, the engineering viability of the Traveston proposal as a reliable source of water supply did not seem to have been properly established before proceeding with land acquisitions and detailed environmental planning. Perhaps, after spending hundreds of millions, it was realised that the project was not technically viable. If so, a 'political conspiracy' could have involved the federal government providing the state with an excuse to abandon the project without the embarrassment of admitting incompetence in spending huge amounts of taxpayer money. Who knows?

Water Quality?

"I understand Dubai tried to sue Coca Cola for all the stomach problems being experienced in Dubai. Coca Cola successfully proved it was all a result of desalinated water.

Yes massive power requirements, a dead sea zone for many miles; and need for everyone then to drink mineral water. French mineral water in Dubai cheaper than Australian. mineral water in Australia. But that's not the case here. This will cost money to drink healthy water plus the costs of using it to wash etc. What it does to industrial plants I have no idea.

There is not enough water in Australia to sustain a population any higher than what we have. Someone needs to stop immigration for a number of reasons including this and housing availability etc. There is no long term planning or foresight whatsoever in this country. .... "