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The North-South Pipeline: Melbourne - it's time to take a stand!

[February 2011]

Letter in The Weekly Times

The proposal to pump water through the North-South Pipeline to avoid using water from the desalination plant has been rightly rejected by the Victorian water minister Peter Walsh (Pipeline dispute flows on, TWT, 26/1/11).

But it does highlight a problem for the new government as it grapples with the legacy of these two extremely expensive and quite disastrous water projects.

One solution for the Coalition is for them to maintain their commitment to not pump water to Melbourne and fast track their other key water commitment-“ to greatly increase the roll out of water efficiency measures and the creation of 'new' water sources for Melbourne. These include major substitution of recycled water, rainwater and stormwater for Melbourne's water supplies. For example they have promised a target of 110 billion litres of recycled water by 2015.

To get moving on these projects they will need to allocate substantial funds in the next state budget. But these low impact options will be well received by both urban and rural communities and greatly reduce demand  on the energy guzzling desalination plant.

Cam Walker
Campaigns co-ordinator
Friends of the Earth


[December 2010]


new government in Victoria


One significant piece of good news with the new government is their intention to 'phase-out Melbourne's reliance on the north-south pipeline' and greatly reduce our dependence on the desal plant.

There is an analysis of the good and the bad of the Coalitions water policy available here.

[September 2010]

A response to Nationals MP Peter Ryan on water options for Victoria .

[June 2010]

 There is still a way out of water policy disaster for state government

A response to the Auditor-General's report on the Food Bowl modernisation program and North South pipeline.

[January 2010]

Melbourne (still) does not need the North South pipeline

Water Minister Tim Holding has announced that water may flow through the pipe to Melbourne as soon as February.

We believe there is growing opposition to the pipeline - check here for the sign on letter supported by more than 20 local and state based organisations and over 100 people.

[above: the pipe crossing at Yea River, Jan 2010]

[October 2009]

compliance report shows environmental impacts of the pipeline

The compliance report on the North South pipeline prepared by the Sugarloaf Pipeline Alliance shows that the known or possible habitats of a number of vulnerable species, including Matted Flax-lily, the Golden Sun Moth, Striped Legless Lizard, and Growling Grass Frog have been compromised during the construction of the pipeline.

You can read our response here

killingworth rd

[above: the pipe is now laid (left background) but anti pipe sentiment remains. Melbourne continues to have other options to meet it's water needs - the Goulburn River does not.  Killingworth Rd, Yea, Sept 2009]

Flooding and erosion, spring 2009

Above: Images taken on 27-9-09 by local farmer Jan Beer, showing minor flooding in the Yea River and over the Yea river wetlands/floodplain area, where the North-South Pipeline and easement crosses the wetlands.   The Governments own environmental studies undertaken prior to construction suggested avoiding such flood prone areas.

The easement had only been re-instated in the last few weeks, and the likelihood now is that much of the topsoil, particularly where the current is strong, has been washed downstream.

It is not clear what the mitigation plans are in this area and the many other areas upstream along the Yea River that would now have had crucial topsoil washed away.   There is no obvious mention of any such mitigation plans, or indeed re-instatement plans, in the Environmental Management Plans (EMP's) should flooding occur.

[September 2009]

Opposition to the pipeline continues - it is still the wrong 'solution' to the water crisis

At the last state election, the Coalition put forward the idea of building a new dam to meet our water needs. The ALP rightly rejected this idea, opting instead for a range of demand management measures. The then premier, Steve Bracks, famously stated that desalination would not be a part of the water future of the state.

As we all start to get our water bills with the 17% increase (which is largely to pay for projects like the desal plant) we have to ask what is going wrong with water policy. It seems to get more ad hoc and desperate by the minute. While we still pump billions of litres of water out to sea at Gunnamatta, the government is now planning to take10 billion litres from the Thomson river, which is needed for flow to keep that river healthy, and would pose a significant threat to the Australian Grayling, the platypus and the Gippsland Lakes.

The water which will be brought to Melbourne next year via the North South pipeline is environmental flow, which was intended to help save our degraded rivers north of the divide. Part of this is high security water retained in Eildon Weir and used to maintain the health of our northern rivers when high temperatures and low environmental flows cause fish kills and blue-green algae blooms. We are facing a long, hot summer and our rivers need that flow.

Now there are plans to allocate a further 12 billion litres from the Wimmera-Mallee system, which has been saved by the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline System and intended to be retained in the Waranga Basin and used as environmental flow.

As has been the case all these years since Mr Bracks commitment not to embrace desalination, we continue to have options to meet our water needs. These include substantial recycling and reuse of water, roll out of rain water tanks, and stormwater collection, amongst others. To give ourselves breathing space, we could go onto higher level water restrictions until we have implemented policies that allow Melbourne to become  self-sufficient in meeting its water needs without pinching water from stressed river systems and agricultural users.

Cam Walker
campaigns co-ordinator
Friends of the Earth 

[above: the pipeline route through Toolangi state forest, before the fires]

North South pipeline works completed - there still isn't any water

media release 26th August 2009

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has joined rural groups in expressing disappointment at the completion of the 'major works' phase of the North South pipeline.

"As we have stated all along, the twin components of the state government's current water policy - the North South pipeline and desalination plant - will lock Victoria into a high impact and incredibly expensive future" said FoE campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker. "The combined costs of these projects will greatly undermine our ability to invest in more sustainable and more sensible options like capture of stormwater, rainwater tanks and complete recycling of the water currently being pumped to sea at Gunnamatta".

"The fires of February 2009 will impact on the Goulburn system for many years and climate science tells us we must expect more of these type of events. This will mean reduced flow into our rivers. Our inland river systems are already incredibly stressed, and the Goulburn is in the worst state of any sub catchment in the Murray Darling Basin. Any water saved through irrigation efficiencies must be for environmental flow and other uses north of the divide. Melbourne has many options to meet its current and future water needs in a way that creates far more jobs at far less cost than the desalination plant and pipeline.  It is a tragedy that the government has, against the weight of public opinion, pushed ahead with such an expensive and flawed 'mega project' approach to seeking solutions to the water crisis".

Further comment: Cam Walker 0419 338 047

[August 2009]

Kayak for Earth

We have been supporting the journey by Steve Posselt, as he paddles and drags a kayak from Echuca to Melbourne, beginning August 1 2009.

You can find details on Steve's journey here.

[above: along the Goulburn River, photo: Steve Posselt]

Environmental impacts of the North South pipeline  

[an update June 2009]

FoE members and supporters will be aware of our campaign against the North South pipeline (officially known as the Sugarloaf Pipeline Project), which is currently being built and is expected to be finished by 2010. It will bring water from the Goulburn River to Sugarloaf Reservoir, a distance of approximately 70 kilometres, to provide water to Melbourne.

Much of the pipeline route has now been cut. While there has been sustained media attention to the social impacts and opposition to the pipeline by rural communities, the environmental impacts of the project have, as yet, received little attention.

We have recently released a report detailing the environmental costs of this project. It shows that:

  •     greatest destruction of habitat has occurred in Toolangi State Forest, where a number of endangered species have had their habitat dissected by a twelve kilometre long, thirty metre wide clear cut,
  •     at least four Special Protection Zones (SPZs) have been badly impacted by the pipe operations, especially one on Pauls Range, and one which was a linear link to protect Leadbeaters Possum, the Victorian faunal emblem. SPZs are established to provide protection from logging of significant habitat, yet these zones were clearfelled for the pipeline,
  •      the pipe route now cuts through Toolangi forest, opening the way for widespread weed invasion,
  •     there is the possibility of severe impacts on platypus populations in the Yea and Goulburn Rivers and a range of aquatic species including Macquarie Perch,
  •     It is very difficult to determine the actual impacts on a range of threatened or endangered species, such as the Growling Grass Frog, owls, Spot-tailed Quoll,     it appears that damage has been compounded by continuing clear felling straight after the fires of February 2009, and
  •     There are significant greenhouse impacts associated with this project.

This report demonstrates the obvious environmental impacts of this unsustainable, unpopular and un needed project.

We believe that the application of the precautionary principle would mean that we should stop any further construction of the pipe until there has been a thorough assessment of the likely long term impacts of the 2009 bush fires on water supply in the upper Goulburn catchments and whether water savings expected to be made through the Food Bowl Modernisation Program will actually materialise.

This project is being built for the benefit of the people of Melbourne, while taking water from our stressed inland rivers. We hope to be able to highlight some of the costs associated with the pipeline through this report.

For a copy of our report Out of Sight, Out of mind, an assessment of the environmental impacts of the North South pipeline, please check here.

For a copy of the Weekly Times article on the report, check here.

[clearing for the pipeline near the Kinglake - Toolangi Road junction with the Melba Highway, Toolangi State Forest. The pipe and road run parallel for several hundred metres, posing a considerable risk to groun dwelling native species and compounding the fragmentation effect of the pipeline on Toolangi forest].

[above: clearing for the pipe route, Toolangi State Forest, June 2009].

[near Yarra Glen. The local social impacts of the pipeline are considerable, yet the issue is 'out of sight' for most Melbourne residents]

update - February 2009

Most of the pipeline route through Toolangi forest was badly burnt in the fires and there is currently no construction work on this section of the route.

The state government continues to argue that we need the desalination plant and  pipeline. In the light of the fires, and the fact that so much of our water catchments have been burnt, we believe that more than ever, we need a sustainable water policy for our state, one which is not based on the pipeline or desal plant or continued logging of our water catchments.

Melbourne has other options - we do not. An open letter by Ellen Hogan, Mansfield. Check here.

For an opinion piece on the fires and impacts of the pipeline, check here.

image above: Pauls' Range (Toolangi forest) after the fires, Feb 2009

image above: pipeline works near Glenburn, Dec 2008



The North-South Pipeline: Melbourne – it’s time to take a stand!

[Jan 2009]
There is growing awareness of the impacts of the pipeline on the river systems that flow into the Murray, and the impacts on rural communities along the pipe route. However, at present, there is little widespread awareness of the major ecological impacts that will come with the construction of pipeline along its length from the Goulburn River to Sugarloaf reservoir.

The route for the north-south pipeline is being cut through the Toolangi state forest at present.

As of mid January 2009, clear felling of forests, including old growth and some listed as Special Protection Zones (SPZ), is happening at an incredible rate along the pipe route. Commercial loggers would not be allowed to log a SPZ - which are created because of their special ecological values – yet these areas are being devastated for the pipeline.

Friends of the Earth is seeking to highlight:

* the ecological costs of drawing water from the inland river systems
* the social impacts of driving the pipeline through rural communities, and
* the impact of the pipeline itself on the surrounding landscape

Map of the Toolangi Forest, showing the Special Protection Zones likely to be impacted by the pipeline here.


current events

If you are interested in getting involved in future events, please contact Cam Walker: [email protected]



[ABOVE: the communityoccupation was organised in order to draw attention to the damage occuring in the Toolangi state forest. The location above marked the southern front of the destruction in mid January, and was only a few hundred metres from a Special Protection Zone].


[above: our peaceful direct action on January 22 sought to draw attention to the fact that massive destruction is occuring for the benefit of the people of Melbourne. Therefore, we should be opposing this project rather than just accepting poor water policy. It was also our attempt to show solidarity with rural communities being affected by the pipeline everyday].

Community occupation of the North South pipeline

thursday January 22, 2009

This short-sighted pipeline project will pump 75 billion litres of water a year from the Goulburn River, the major Victorian tributary of the Murray, to supply Melbourne.

At present a 12 kilometre swathe is being cut through the Toolangi state forest, threatening Special Protection Zones and the ecological integrity of the forest.

Please consider joining us for a community occupation of the work site on thursday 22 January, from 9.30am

Our plan is to hold a peaceful occupation of the site. This area is considered a 'no go zone', meaning people entering the site will be asked to leave and be arrested if they fail to do so. We need people prepared to be arrested as well as others who can provide support (staying outside the work zone).

This action is organised by Friends of the Earth, in support of affected rural communities and in the cause of sensible water policy.

If you are intending to come, please contact Cam Walker as soon as possible.

03 9419 8700/ 0419 338 047/  <[email protected]>

For further details on the pipeline, its impacts, and alternative ways to meet our water needs, please see:


[ABOVE: the community 'walk on' to view work at the tunnel portal, December 2008]


December 2008 update

Thanks to everyone who attended thecommunity action and saw the impacts of the North South pipeline on the Toolangi state forest, farmland to the north, and the communities along the pipeline route.

Stay tuned for future actions and events in Melbourne.

To go on the email list for future actions, please send your details to [email protected]

Check here for images from the community walk on in December 2008 and other community rallies.


community walk-on to pipeline route, December 14 2008

Please join our community action - sunday December 14, on the pipeline construction site in Toolangi forest. See photos of the clearing taken at the last rally here.

This short-sighted project will pump 75 billion litres of water a year from the Goulburn River, the major Victorian tributary of the Murray, to supply Melbourne. The media to date has shown protests and rallies by rural communities whose land and livelihoods are being damaged. But the government says the pipeline is being built to benefit us in Melbourne. We must ask ourselves:

* Do we really need it?
* What are its impacts?
* What else can we do to meet our water needs?

Please join us for a peaceful Walk On to the pipeline construction site to show that Melbourne people care. We do not want scarce resources drawn from dry catchments simply because the state government lacks the courage and foresight to deal with Melbourne’s water needs responsibly and honestly.

When: Sunday, December 14

Where: Meet at 11am SHARP at the corner of the Melba Highway and the Healesville – Kinglake Rd (Melways Key Map, Page 10 P2 or Day Tours Page 910 Q11). We will convoy/car-pool the last few kilometres to the construction site. Allow about 70 minutes drive from inner Melbourne.

What: We will walk on to the pipe construction site to witness the clearing of Toolangi State Forest, and hear from locals who will explain the ecological impacts of the proposed pipeline which will cut through 12 kilometres of the forest between Glenburn and Yarra Glen.

Then join us at 1pm for a picnic by the Yea River at Glenburn (turn left at Glenburn Hotel, follow for 100m), to catch up, ask questions and hear from people involved in the Plug the Pipe. BYO food & drink.

Aim: To send a message to the state government that people in Melbourne as well as country Victoria care about the real cost of this project. We do not need this $750+ million pipeline.

* Government should not be removing water from stressed catchments north of the Great Divide
* There are many other more sustainable and long term options to meet our growing water needs, without this pipeline
* Melbourne – it’s time we stood up against this destructive project!

This will mark the launch of a new alliance. We will focus on opposing construction of the southern end of the pipeline, as it crashes through Toolangi State Forest and the Yarra Valley and mobilising Melbourne people on this important issue.

Further information: Cam Walker, 03 9419 8700, 0419 338 047, [email protected]
Please car pool to reduce emissions. Also there is limited space to park.

about thepipe


The Sugarloaf Pipeline Project, or Sugarloaf Interconnector Pipeline, more commonly known as the North South pipeline, was announced in May 2008 as part of the state government's Our Water Our Future plan and was approved by the federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, in September 2008. It is currently being built and is expected to be finished by 2010.

The pipeline is being built by a  consortium composed of Melbourne Water, John Holland, Sinclair Knight Merz Pty Ltd (SKM) and GHD Pty Ltd. It will bring water from the Goulburn River to Sugarloaf Reservoir, a distance of approximately 70 kilometres.

The government plan is for the pipeline to be able to transport 75 gigalitres  or GL (75 billion litres) of water each year from the Goulburn River system to be used in Melbourne's water supplies. This water will be made available from savings created through the Foodbowl Modernisation Project (FMP). The FMP is intended to deal with the loss of water in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district, which is estimated at around 900 billion litres of water annually through irrigation leaks and inefficiencies. The FMP is intended to save around 225 GL of water a year, of which  farmers would get around 75 billion litres of "new" water. The environment and Melbourne also each receive 75 billion litres of the savings under this plan. Around 10GL has been recovered to date. 

To get 75GL for the pipeline, the State Government has stated that it will store environmental water in Lake Eildon from other projects undertaken to improve river health.   These projects were completed to increase environmental flows to the Snowy and Murray Rivers. The food bowl plan is expected to cost around one billion dollars and will be largely paid for by taxpayers ($600 million) and through increases in Melbourne water bills ($100 million). The cost of the pipeline is estimated at $750 million.
The independent Auditor General has raised serious questions about the project and in particular its reliance on projected savings from the Foodbowl Modernisation Project. The savings will come from lining five per cent of the irrigation channels in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation Area with plastic and replacement metering on irrigation systems.  It now appears that the amount of water claimed that would come from this work is not likely to be actually available, and that potential savings have been consistently over stated. 

In addition to the question of whether the water will actually be available for use in Melbourne, there have been consistent concerns raised within the community about lack of due and proper process.   The project was announced by the state government without any involvement from, or consultation with, the general public, or publically available scientific evidence about whether the pipeline was the best way to secure water for Melbourne's future water needs. There are a range of negative social impacts along the pipeline route as it crosses through private land.

[above: clearing starts at the northern tunnel portal, Toolangi state forest, December 20008]

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