One person was arrested when protesters carrying two banners walked onto the Desalination Plant proposed site near Wonthaggi on May 9. The occasion was a rally at the gates of the proposed site organised by Watershed Victoria and Melbourne supporters.
"Last chance to have your say – if you build it, we won't pay"
For over two years, anti-desal campaigners have organised rallies, meetings, film showings, debates and briefings, outlining the real costs of this project and putting forward the practical alternatives to an energy guzzling desalination plant on the Bass Coast. Despite the spiralling costs of the pilot plant itself, the scarcity of data, criticism of the project from experts inside and outside the government, as well as doubts about financing the project, the government continues to push ahead.
The Desalination Plant is beng designed to supply 150 Gigalitres per year for the Melbourne water supply and will be managed and operated through a public -private partnership (PPP) being extoled by the Brumby Labor Government. But many experts say deslaination should be the solution of last resort as it involves huge amount of (CO2 pollutng) power, and generates tonnes of solid waste and brine sludge which is pumped back out to sea where it can affect the coastal marine environment.
Alternative sources for water include recycled purified water from treatment plants (110 GL/y), stormwater capture (50 GL/y), rainwater tanks (25 GL/y), Flood Diversion (20 GL/y), and installation of dual flush cisterns (15 GL/y) all of which could be done for a fraction of the cost of a desalination plant.
The proposed Desal plant at Wonthaggi will cause 1.18 - 1.57 million tonnes of carbon emission equivalent to 365,000 extra cars on the road, discharge 8,800 litres of brine per second just 500 metres off the beautiful Bass coast, suck in and kill 380,000 small organisms per second into the plant. Operation of the plant will be for profit by a multinational infrastructure company, most likely Veolia who already run the Melbourne train system as Connex. The cost (and profits) of the plant will be passed on to consumers through increases in water rates. The people of Melbourne will pay!
In March Federal Evironment minister Peter Garrett gave conditional approval of the desalination plant in Victoria. Cam Walker from Fiends of the Earth criticised the ministerial decision saying "we believe that his assessment is flawed because it is based on information provided by the project's proponent rather than independent studies," he said. He also raised that the decision does not relate to or consider the full impacts on species that are not federally listed. "In particular there are serious concerns about the impacts on marine life posed by the plant, including to whale populations, which are not addressed in the Minister’s decision. Cam Walker said in a news release: Garrett fails Victoria on desalination plant approval.
The coastal zone and beaches nearby are a popular fishing spot that will be effectvely ruined. The effluent pipe for the concentrated brine will only take the sludge 500 metres out to sea to destroy the ecology of the rocky reef environment, when it should be extended 2 to 3 kilometres out to sea where the brine can be adequately dispersed by the currents in Bass Strait.
The Bunurong Land Council is concerned over the destraction of aboriginal cultural sites. Steve Compton, Cultural Officer with the Bunurong Land Council told the rally "Some of those sites on the property are the largest sites in the Bass Coast region ... So basically the Bunurong community have asked me to say to you guys that they're dead against the Desal. There is better options for getting water like putting rainwater tanks in Melbourne. Basically bugger off and leave the coast alone and stop trying to dish out big loads of money to foreign multinationals." (Youtube Video Report: Bunurong people Oppose Desalination Plant)
Gareth Barlow, a councillor from Bass Coast Shire Council spoke about the council's long standing opposition to the development. Bass Coast State MP for the Liberal Party spoke of his opposition to the plant, while acknowledging that the Liberals had proposed a smaller State owned Desalination plant at the last election which he had supported.
Anton from the Clean Ocean Foundation highlighted the amount of water wasted in Melbourne from the Eastern Treatment Plant and Gunnamatta outfall and from stormwater runoff. (Youtube Video Report: Desal plant for Melbourne what a Waste)
Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth came down from Melbourne and spoke about the growing disquiet in the Melbourne suburbs on the Desalination Plant being pushed by the Brumby Labor Government, and the need for more grassroots activism on water issues in Melbourne.
There were also speakers who outlined the reasons for opposition to the Desalination Plant for Melbourne and its sitng near Wonthaggi. (Youtube Video Report: Why you should oppose a Desalination plant for Melbourne)
A speaker also covered the prospects and background of Infrastructure company Veolia who looks likely to be the only private contender for managing the plant under a public-private partnership. Veolia's record in water management (they are also known as Vivendi) leaves much to be desired with community protests and outrage for their water management and pricing practices. (Youtube Video Report: Veolia set to run the Wonthaggi Desalination Plant supplying water to Melbourne)
Just as the speakers were finishing two groups of people entered the exclusion zone of the pilot plant near the dunes to display banners. (Youtube Video report - Protestors enter Desal plant exclusion zone) One person was arrested in the walkon, and was escorted back to the rally where he was released after showing the police identification. The banners said "Fuck off Brumby" and "Desal Costs the Earth".
Songs were sun to popular tunes at the rally Opposing the Desalination plant near Wonthaggi. (Youtube Video Report: Desal Song: We don't want to swim in your chemicals)
Lots of police were brought from around the region to "protect" the pilot plant, as well as the presence of private security company employees, but in contrast to Melbourne protests the police were pretty friendly. I guess they are part of the local community and probably know many of the people opposed to the plant. Indeed, some of the police probably also disagree with the plant being built.