Anti-desal protesters target plant site

Anti-desalination campaign group Watershed has called a protest for May 9 at the site of the proposed desalination plant in Wonthaggi, Victoria. The slogan of the protest will be, "If they build it, we all will pay!"

On its website, Watershed said: "Despite the spiralling costs of the pilot plant itself, the scarcity of data, criticism of the project from experts inside and outside the government, as well as doubts about financing the project, [Premier John] Brumby and [water minister Tim] Holding push ahead."

The March 9 Melbourne Age revealed funding for the desalination plant had not been found, due to the financial crisis. The two companies bidding to build and run it are Veolia and Degremont. Both said that they cannot get enough finance for the project.

The companies said the reason was the impact of the financial crisis on banks. The article said: "Infrastructure industry figures are hopeful the Federal Government will follow a British plan to establish a special bank to help finance struggling PPPs [public-private partnerships]."

It is not explained how a state-financed private consortium remains a private contributor to the "public-private partnership".

A secret state government report in 2007 found the desalination plant and pipeline would not be needed if greater efforts were made to cut water use. The report came two weeks before the desalination plant plans were announced, in June 2007.

The report was made public only after freedom of information requests in February. The government's only comment was that, without the measures it had taken, Melbourne would be on stage 4 restrictions.

Watershed Victoria has said the government's plan "hasn't actually sourced any new water as yet". Watershed claims its its alternative suggestions "could already be topping up our dams", if they had been followed instead.

The Victorian government's other controversial water project is the North-South pipeline. New problems with this proposal have also surfaced in recent weeks. Low rainfall in the north of Victoria has meant little water is being saved. The pipeline is supposed to take water saved as a result of conservation measures to Melbourne.

On March 20, Peter Ker wrote in the online Stock and Land journal: "Despite earlier claims the pipeline would deliver up to 75 billion litres of water to Melbourne each year, authorities privately believe it will struggle to supply half that amount in its second year of operation, 2011."

To take part in the May 9 protest, meet at 10am at Powletts Road, near Wonthaggi.

[For more information, visit www.watershedvictoria.org.au.]