Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Water Policies 2007

Today's news papers carry more stories about the lack of water in Australia. We have certainly felt the lack of rain resulting from the effects of El Nino.

In the last quarter of 2006, the Federal Government increased the status of water issues, creating a Parliamentary Secretary. Prime Minister John Howard has publicly said that he wants control over all the Murray-Darling Basin - system that covers parts of Queensland, NSw, Victoria and SA. However, water is a State responsibility. Whether it should be handed over to the Federal Government is another matter, and, constitutionally, should be subject to a referendum.

The responses of the States to the prolonged drought and falling water supplies varies. However, NSW is the only state where the Government will not accept the concept of recycled water. Since the concept was raised in 2004-05, various NSW Ministers have stated that the people of Sydney "will not accept recycled water". To my knowledge there has been no comprehensive, reliable survey of Sydney residential users.

As Sydney's storage capacity falls to 36%, the NSW Government says that increased water restrictions in Sydney will cause "panic" and are unnecessary. Were it not for supplementary water supplies from other parts of the State, Sydney's water would be at about 25% of capacity, and Sydney would have the same water restrictions as other towns desperate for water. Goulburn (NSW) and Toowoomba (Qld) are two such towns that have been in the news.

Both the NSW Labor Government, and the Liberal/National Opposition have said that they will not increase water restrictions. The ONLY reason for saying this is self-interest - there is a State election in March and they do not want to upset the voters.

Yet it would seem that that increased water restrictions would be a cheaper option to building and powering a brand new desalination plant to supplement water supplies for a short time. There appears to be no cohesive short, medium or long-term plans to properly manage water supplies for Sydney, or to act in the best interests of Sydney residents.

In the last 20 years, the population of Sydney has doubled; its water storage capacity has not changed. Our governments will not invest in infrastructure; they want to protect their budget surplus, keep demanding a "dividend" from Sydney Water (so it has little money) and keep their votes.

We need politicians who will do something for the community; rather than do something for themselves and their parties. It seems voters have to create a political backlash to force their hand! What a shameful indictment of our governments.

The Analyst