We hear on the radio today that the decision whether to pipe water to Melbourne from Tasmania OR to build a new desalination
plant is still very much up in the air.
Now to us it would seem a simple decision, based on the facts as presented, lets weight them up.
The set up cost
The projected cost to build the pipeline is looking to be less than 4 billion Australian Dollars. This is expected to be a pretty accurate, given the how simple and well understood the technology is with laying pipes - even underwater. This is not 'rocket science'.
The alternative is a $4.9 billion plan to drought-proof Melbourne, which includes a desalination plant, an upgrade of northern Victorian irrigation networks and a connecting north-south pipeline.
So on set up costs the pipeline looks to be ahead by $900 million! One to the pipeline...
The operational costs
I don't know about you - but how much does it cost to maintain just a pipeline??? Given enough 'head pressure' (i.e. height from sea level) at the Tasmania end, there a quite a lot of dams high enough, it should be possible to operate the pipeline without a pump! Yes, the head pressure would be enough to overcome the drag in the pipe and deliver water with enough pressure at the end to be useful... So to get water out of the end would require no electricity or moving parts.. So nothing to wear out and replace and no 'consumption' as such..
With the alternative, for starters you have a desalination plant to maintain, plus all the raw materials and disposal costs, plus people to be employed operating it..
Now given there are no figures available on either operational costs - this is going to have to be a 'common sense' analysis and I think the pipeline has this... So two to the pipeline.
The environmental impact
Now I wonder which is going to win here.. anyways..
The pipeline, apart from the initial installation, has minimal environmental impact
. The water going down it, as we understand, would have gone into the sea anyways. Plus if the pipeline does spring a leak, its only going to leak water - not some nasty chemical. So its environmentally safe as well.Note:
There is an assumption here that the Tasmania water system has sufficient ongoing 'spare' capacity to operate the pipeline, with enough regularity to be useful. If this is not the case, then its a slamp dunk for the desalination plant, as a dry pipeline serves no one.
As for the desalination plant.. There are several issues:
First off, the process of desalination produces more salty water which is often returned direct to the ocean, this has a negative impact on the local marine life.
Secondly, desalination plants consume vast amounts of energy in operation - in Australia this often results directly in the production of green house
gases. there is also the issue of possible air polution.
So to us I think the pipeline wins again, so thats three to the pipeline!
One really wonders what is going on with the various government agencies involved in this project. One suspects a large degree of political 'fiddling' going on. Which is a shame as it looks like not only the environment
will loose out, the currently very financially stressed Australian public will end up footing the bill for an expensive and complex solution!
Please; Senator Penny Wang, The Tasmania goverment, and other interested government departments and officials; give the pipeline a real chance and look at the longer term picture. As is often the case, the simplest solution is often the best.
The other option..
There is one more option that has not being raised, and probably because it is political suicide; basically, use a lot less water! i.e. work out what segments of the economy are the biggest water consumers and 'fine' them on the basis of over consumption of a limited resource - so making it uneconomical to derive profit from inefficient water usage.