[update, December 2010]

FoE members and supporters will be aware of our long running support for the local campaigns against the desalination plant and the North South pipeline. A number of us took our concerns so far that we were arrested in Toolangi State Forest while attempting to blockade logging operations that resulted in a 12 kilometre, 200 metre wide clear fell through these forests so the pipeline could be laid.

So one significant bit 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.

FoE long argued that substitution of other water sources for water from the plant and pipe was of lower cost and far less social and environmental impact, so we are greatly heartened to see these aspects of the Coalitions policy. The Coalition is promising major substitution of recycled water, rainwater and stormwater for Melbourne's potable water supplies. For example they promise a substitional target of 110 billion litres of water by 2015 and 200 billion litres of water by 2030. These are very significant targets, although as yet there is no funding allocated to actually achieve the targets. It appears that the primary means of reaching the target will be through reducing prices for recycled water and upgrading the Eastern Treatment Plant, though there are no budgetary allocations to achieve these outcomes. Likewise they promise to close the Gunnamatta outfall 'in their second term of parliament' but have not yet provided detail on how this might be achieved.

They have also said that they will establish a Ministerial Advisory Council to report on the planning, regulation, pricing, legislative changes and management required to improve the sustainability of Victoria's water use.

There are a range of other positive aspects of their water policy, although many of these are currently lacking in details on timelines and costings.

According to promises made before the election, the Coalition will:

  • establish new planning benchmarks for sustainability.
  •   establish a $50 million fund over 4 years to promote water sensitive urban design.
  •   increase water efficiency rebates by $40 million and extend rebates to new products and small business.
  •   ensure that all government major projects will require rainwater capture and reuse.
  •   honour existing Labor Government commitments to additional environmental flows in the Yarra, Thomson, Murray and Snowy Rivers.

We look forward to the full implementation of these promises.

Of course there are a number of worrying aspects as well:

  • They say they will scrap water restrictions by 2012 regardless of the status of supplies in our water storages.
    They have in principle support for a number of new dam proposals
  •   they do not support the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan.

an introduction to our work

We live in a time where we are caught between two trends – both of which will directly impact on the liveability of our environment. Melbourne's population continues to grow and our per capita water consumption remains high. And water availability is expected to decline considerably under climate change scenarios.

Water – or, more particularly, water stress – is a growing concern for the general population. We run the risk of seeing popular sentiment and fear about shortages driving water policy in future. It can be argued that this is already happening with the current water plans of the state government. With massive projects already underway, it is imperative that we re-inject common sense and sustainable planning into how we met our long term water needs.

The Victorian government went to the November 2006 election with a well-considered and sustainable strategy to meet Victoria’s water needs through to 2055. However, in June 2007 there was a dramatic turnaround by the government and Premier Bracks announced that the largest desalination plant in the world would be built on South Gippsland’s Bass Coast. Mr Bracks had discounted desalination in 2006 on the grounds that the ‘energy generation is enormous, the intrusion on the community is enormous and of course it’s extraordinarily expensive.’

The government’s new post election policy, ‘Our Water Our Future, The Next stage of the Government’s Water Plan’, relied on short term figures of water inflows to our catchments (three years of data) – far too short for such a long term strategy and yet on the basis of this data, the government set out in a new and destructive direction in regards to water planning. While it did not support the building of new dams, they have embraced two new and destructive projects – the desalination plant and the North – South pipeline.


The fact that people in Melbourne have reduced their per capita water consumption shows that people care and are prepared to change their personal behaviour when presented with information about water shortages.

However we risk losing the benefits of this changed behaviour if the desalination plant comes on line and water restrictions are lifted. And the North South pipeline would draw much needed water from parched river systems north of the Divide. There are a range of alternatives – outlined below – that will enshrine smart use of water whilst keeping within ecological constraints and taking future climate change scenarios into account.

What we don't need


* desalination – this is very energy intensive. If it is powered by renewable energy, this will limit our ability to use renewables to replace coal
* the North – South pipeline (the combined cost of these two projects is more than $5 billion)
* new dams. The Mitchell is our last major un-dammed river and should be kept as such. Plans put forward by the Liberals for a new dam on the Maribyrnong river would have seen major loss of water through evaporation
* piped water from Tasmania, delivered via a pipeline under Bass Strait

How much water do we need?

Melbourne uses more than 400 gigalitres (GL) of water a year. A GL is a billion litres.  Current inflows to our reservoirs has been 387 GL per year over the past ten years (although this has varied considerably from year to year). This shortfall has driven the current debate about water.

The desalination plant will deliver 150 GL a year (from when it is completed in 2011) and the North South pipeline will deliver 75 GL a year to Melbourne from 2010.

other FoE water campaigns and projects

VCAT Knocks Back $70 million Eastern Golf Course Relocation. (Jan 2011). Release here.

More herbicides detected in Barwon Water supply network (August 2010). Release here.

Lead levels in Ballarat Drinking Water Alarming (June 2010). Release here.

Friends of the Earth releases report on water quality issues for Ballarat, Bendigo and Benalla (May 2010). Release here.

Making Melbourne a water sensitive city. Article here.