Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rain on Bligh’s Parade

A thoughtful editorial this morning from the Courier Mail in Queensland. I think it’s a fairly accurate comment on the role of politics and populism in decision-making. The suggestion is that the Western Corridor Water Recycling Project may not be used for supplementing Brisbane’s drinking water supplies, -at least not until reservoir levels drop again to what they were a year or two ago.

It is unfortunate when something as crucial as sustainable water management becomes a political football. But politics is politics and elections must be won at all costs. I’ll be interested to see how this pans out over the next few days…


Rain on Bligh's parade: editorial
The Courier Mail
November 26, 2008


THE Courier-Mail has long been a strong advocate for long-term policy thinking. We have regularly encouraged the State Government to think to the future and not simply be captive to the emergencies of the day.

Many of the challenges and crises we have faced in Queensland, particularly in the southeast, have, in part at least, been caused by a failure to plan ahead, be it in health care, or traffic congestion or in making sure we do not run out of water.

We therefore applauded the State Government when it finally decided to build the southeast Queensland water grid to ensure the region's water security.

And we welcomed its commitment, at last, to recycling as a way to reduce the amount of potable water going to industrial use, particularly power generation.

And two years ago, in the midst of the worst drought on record, we accepted the argument for mixing recycled water with drinking water, as long as public health could be assured.

The water grid is undoubtedly more expensive than it needed to be if some early and sensible long-term planning had been in place. But here, at last, was government action designed to address current and future challenges with a long-term, albeit very expensive, strategy.

But now, suddenly we have a Government making decisions based not on long-term or thoughtful planning but rather on nothing more than crude populist politics. Premier Anna Bligh and her team have apparently decided that forcing people to drink recycled water unless they absolutely have to is bad politics and so they have turned to the Queensland Water Commission, looking for some wriggle room.

Not so very long ago, the State Government was telling us that not only was it perfectly safe to drink recycled water but it was a vital part of the state's overall drought-proofing strategy.

Nothing has changed since then except for the fact that we have had good early summer rains and suddenly the whole sense of emergency has faded away as our dam levels return to something approaching normal levels.

No new science has emerged to suggest that the purification and safety systems in place for handling recycled water are in any way inadequate. And there is no suggestion that, summer rains or not, the problems we faced a year ago of growing population and increasingly uncertain weather patterns have eased.

Ms Bligh clearly started her premiership trying to distance herself from the populist, three-ring-circus style of her predecessor by concentrating on the nuts and bolts, and pipes and hard hats, of getting much-needed infrastructure in place.

But now that the infrastructure, and the next state election, are almost here, she has dramatically reverted to a style of populism that would have done Peter Beattie proud.

But there is more to this than simply despairing of politicians acting the way politicians normally do when their future is at stake. There are also potentially serious economic consequences for the state if the Government eventually decides to make less than full use of the about-to-be-completed $2.5 billion recycled water scheme.

Imagine if the State Government decided to solve traffic problems by building an eight-lane toll road and then, just as it opened, decided to open only two lanes.

How do you pay for the project? Do you bump up the toll on the two lanes or do you spread the cost among all of us by way of higher taxes or cutting costs somewhere else? The state faces the same problem unless it fully utilises this expensive new piece of infrastructure.

We acknowledge that many of our readers have reservations about the idea of adding treated recycled water to our drinking supplies. But equally, we believe that the scientific safeguards provide maximum protection. And clearly the State Government believes that as well. But when it comes to politics, science will always take second place to opinion polls.

5 comments:

Mark said...

Finally SEQ is dawning on the obvious fact that

1. when the dam levels are high, the need for recycling reduces (economically makes no sense, nobody wants it).
2. when the dam levels are low, the value of recycling an ever-diminishing supply of water becomes less and less palatable and still doesn't guarantee it wont run out.

Flawed idea from the start - should have looked at urban storm-water reclamation where Singapore gets 50% of its water from rather than where they get a mere 1%.

Now the CM is criticizing politicians for making political decisions. Yes that is what they do. And then to suggest that the science is unanimously on the side of recycling in this manner in particular is frankly a bit rich.

The whole saga is sad and funny at the same time.

Anonymous said...

What an unbelievable cave-in to a loudmouth bunch of Toowoomba-based LNP ignoramouses!!

Anonymous said...

Agree with you Mark.

Recycled WASTE water for drinking water is a flawed, expensive, unpopular idea - for MANY sensible rational reasons - and name calling any opponents of recycled water didn't help it's cause.

I believe drinking recycled waste water could only really be popular, as an idea on a glossy brochure for someone else - somewhere else - but not personally - and not when it's coming from YOUR kitchen tap.

Governments in Australia should have learnt this lesson from Toowoomba and saved taxpayers money.

Do the people who want to FORCE this new technology on people actually believe in Australia's Democracy?

Nice to hear the rain today is still falling on the roof ...

Daqtaoge said...

I agree that it is a bit rich to say that science is on the side of recycling water.

Science being what it is may show recycled water up when the magnification is at the nanometre level. Then what would you depend on, politics to back recycled water up?

What really is required is for politics to back the "no" to recycled water. Politics being far removed from science is the much needed counter balance to the politics for recycled water.

Anonymous said...

Water backflip to hurt French firm

Greg Roberts | November 29, 2008

Article from: The Australian

PAYMENTS of hundreds of millions of dollars to French infrastructure giant Veolia are set to be slashed following the Bligh Government's backdown on recycled water.

The revelation came as the Queensland Water Commission refused to give a commitment yesterday to make permanent this week's decision to withhold recycled sewage and industrial effluent from southeast Queensland dams unless their average level fell below 40 per cent.

The commission would say only that it would decide "at a later stage" the circumstances in which recycled water would be turned off if dam levels rose above 40per cent after falling below that level.

Following a series of reports in The Australian, the Government this week backed down from plans to begin pumping 60 megalitres a day of recycled waste water to Brisbane's Wivenhoe Dam from next February or March, rising to 230ML later in the year.

The average dam level yesterday was 46per cent and was expected to rise further over the summer. Under the new policy, recycled water would not be added to supplies unless they fell below 40per cent.

Veolia Water has been advising the Queensland Government on the $2.5billion recycled water scheme's installations and infrastructure. The French company will be operating its three treatment plants. The company, which has an annual turnover of $70billion, will also manage a $1.2billion desalination plant being built on the Gold Coast.

The Australian reported this week that Veolia and the Queensland government-owned Western Corridor Recycled Water company were funding the $2.5million Chair of Water Recycling at the University of Queensland, which has been involved in the Government's campaign to defend the safety of recycled water.

Although recycled water will not now be added to the reservoirs, between 40ML and 80ML of recycled water a day will be used to operate the Tarong and Swanbank power stations, and 10ML a day will be available for other industrial use.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas refused to reveal how much Veolia was being paid for its management role.

However, he said up to $1.2billion would be spent over the next decade to operate the recycled and desalinated water schemes.

Industry sources said Veolia would receive about half the operating expenses.

Keith Davies, chief executive of WaterSecure, the new government body that will manage the scheme, made it clear the operator faced a pay cut.

"Veolia water will be paid less if less water is produced," Mr Davies said.

Mr Lucas said no compensation was payable to Veolia under its contract if the production of recycled water fell below the level that was planned.

"The contract makes provisions for a wide variety of operating conditions," Mr Lucas said.

The water commission was unable to say if any of the three plants in the western corridor would be shut down as a result of this week's decision, or how much production would fall.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,24723353-2702,00.html

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