Water plan relies on boring details

Peter Farago
GEELONG residents should prepare themselves to drink at least some fluoride by 2015 after State Government this week unveiled its plan to secure the region’s water supply.
Premier Steve Bracks and Water Minister John Thwaites outlined the Government’s $100 million plan on Tuesday to boost the region’s water supply to more than 50,000 megalitres a year.
The pair selected a suitable backdrop for their announcement.
Highton’s Montpellier Service Basin is the last stop before treated water enters the mains that feed Geelong’s residential and industrial neighbourhoods.
The basin’s emerald contents shimmered in the sunshine on the 28-degree day as the MPs delivered their good news.
But not everyone will be filled with sunshine if studies knock back some of the Government’s plans.
At least two proposals were based on assumptions that feasibility studies would allow Barwon Water to draw borewater to supply Geelong residents.
Under the Government plan, a feasibility study would look into the impacts of drawing water from aquifers at Jan Juc and Newlingrook, in the Otways.
The Premier warned that if the scientific studies found drawing water would damage the environment, particularly the Gellibrand River, then Geelong would be connected to Melbourne’s system – and fluoridated water.
But there’s a lot in the Government’s strategy that also needs to be applauded – especially a focus on increasing the level of industry recycling.
State Government will tip $9.2 million into a $62 million project to recycle water used at Shell’s Corio oil refinery.
Taxpayers would pour in more if the project gained the nod under Federal Government’s National Water Initiative guidelines.
In terms of state taxpayers’ money, it’s not a big investment in the total scheme of things.
The project, the northern water reclamation plant, would also recycle wastewater from Geelong’s northern suburbs, as Barwon Water has previously stated.
Mr Thwaites also patted several major Geelong industries on the back for their existing water conservation efforts.
Alcoa, Ford and City of Greater Geelong had made 20 per cent water savings, he said.
But there’s a long list of organisations that soak up plenty of water in Geelong, many that will no doubt make State Government’s top-200 list when it’s released next year.
Mr Thwaites told the media this week he would talk with other major industries in Geelong to adopt similar large-scale recycling projects.
But he stopped short of proposing formal regulations, simply suggesting that if industry wanted to come forward with a plan, the Government would listen.
Mr Thwaites revealed that Alcoa drew water from the Jan Juc aquifer, which State Government believed could supply seven billion litres for Geelong.
All industry players need to carry their weight in terms of conserving drinking-quality water.
Apart from food producers, manufacturers shouldn’t be relying on drinking water to run their industrial processes.
Recycling and investing in new, more water-efficient technology, needs to be the new mantra for Australian industries if this country is going to exist in increasingly dry conditions.