'Desalination must be a last resort'

January 17, 2009

Watershed Victoria is an environmental organisation dedicated to the campaign against the proposed desalination plant at Wonthaggi in Victoria, and for a sustainable water policy. Watershed's Chris Heislers spoke to Green Left Weekly's Katherine Bradstreet.

@question = What led to the formation of Watershed?

Watershed was formed in response to state and federal government's arrogant silencing (via Federal Court action) of Your Water Your Say, a community environment group that opposes the construction of the world's largest desalination plant on a wild and magnificent part of Victoria's coastline.

Expert opinion is that desalination must be a last resort to water security, not a first resort.

Water recycling, rain water tanks, storm water collection and water efficiency improvements can deliver over three times the volume of water as the proposed desalination plant at a fraction of the environmental, social and economic cost.

@question = What campaigns is your group currently involved in, and why?

Watershed's prime aim is to stop the proposed Victorian desalination project; not just on the Bass Coast, but anywhere in Victoria. The project will cause massive marine environmental degradation via the discharge of 7000 litres of brine and toxic effluent every second.

It will drive the cost of water up five times over the traditional catchment supply. It will be socially destructive by industrialising a rural coastline.

@question = How important is the question of climate change in activism around water issues?

Climate change and water issues are closely linked. Climate change is altering weather patterns and reducing rainfall in many parts of the world. A common response to the threat of water security worldwide is seawater desalination.

This response is driven by big businesses who make massive profits from water, and by governments seduced by this short-term, bandaid response to the environmental problem.

Seawater desalination is the most carbon-expensive way to supply water. For example, the proposed Victorian Desalination Project will use up to half the power generated by the proposed HRL Coal Power Station [in the LaTrobe Valley].

@question = What are the next steps forward for the climate movement?

It is important the climate movement continues lobbying governments to make responsible targets that give the planet an opportunity to avoid reaching catastrophic tipping points.

However, those arguments will be fruitless if the climate movement does not also quickly start to lobby against non-essential individual polluting projects, such as Victoria's desalination plant and the east-west road tunnel [in Melbourne].

@question = What is wrong with the Rudd and Brumby governments' response to climate change?

The "response" lacks visionary leadership, presumably due to fears of upsetting established, politically powerful industries and fears for their own political future.

The response is not based on an emergency situation.

Governments have demonstrated an ability to respond rapidly and aggressively when they choose, such as with the recent "financial crisis". An equivalent response is necessary in order to secure the future for our planet.

For more information on Watershed's campaigns, visit http://www.watershedvictoria.org.au.

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