The Western Australian government is so happy with its water desalination plant in Kwinana, an outer suburb of Perth, that they are planning more plants. This week plans for a second desalination plant were announced at Binningup in the Shire of Harvey, 155km south of Perth and near the regional city Bunbury. This is after WA Premier Alan Carpenter
announced that he had shelved the Water Corporation’s plans to tap the massive Yarragadee aquifer in the state’s southwest.
The scraping of plans to tap the Yarragadee aquifer is welcome news, but I believe desalination is a wasteful use of resources. I discussed this in a comment at The Coffee House and I hope Matt doesn’t mind me repeating what I said, with some additions.
Perth has a dry climate and we can’t rely on rainfall for all our water needs. Thus, Mundaring Weir east of Perth collects rainwater, but other sources include: groundwater mounds and now desalination. The former is dependent on rainfall and so is not sustainable at the levels we extract it. Desalination is resource intensive (the second plant is expected to cost almost $1 billion to build). The WA government is proud that the desalination plants use renewable sources of energy, but these sources could be better used replacing current coal-generated electricity and then managing our water supply, rather than finding more and more sources of water supply.
While other states in Australia have total sprinkler bans, the Western Australian Water Corporation boasts that we don’t have total bans on sprinkler use. This is not something to gloat over, but rather a sign of people living in the past when a pristine lawn in the suburbs was an aspiration for all. Today we should be aspiring toward more efficient water use and recycling the water we do use.
Sydney, on the other side of Australia, has problems with water supply and desalination plants have been discussed as a solution. Patrick Troy, Darren Holloway & Bill Randolph believe desalination is unnecessary and wrote about practical measures to make households water-independent in their article “Saving Sydney’s Water” in the Summer 2005/06 issue of Dissent magazine. They believe households should collect their own rainfall (although this is not as reliable in Perth as it is in Sydney), but more importantly water should be recycled within the household. Recycling water does not mean drinking sewerage (black water). It means re-using grey water (from kitchen, laundry and bathroom) for flushing of toilets, laundry and use in gardens or landscaping. Black water from toilets may be treated on-site in composting toilets, etc (although this is not always feasible).
While household recycling of water is helpful, this only makes up 11% of total water consumption, as determined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Water Account, Australia, 2004-05. Industry is the main user of water and the agriculture industry uses 65% of Australia’s water.
The ideas discussed by Troy, Holloway & Randolph can be scaled up for use by industry. Grey water would be used for different things and may need in-house treatment. The main point is that every company, factory, farm, etc, as well as every household, is responsible for their own water use and re-use. They may be connected to scheme water (particularly for drinking and washing), but making the best use of water will ensure water, and money, is not wasted. Users of large amounts of water, such as irrigators in agriculture, could be charged higher prices for their use of this precious resource. Some industries, such as rice and cotton, are so water-intensive that they might be better carried out in places with higher rainfall.
Government interventions through integrating water re-use into building codes, incentives for installing the necessary infrastructure, etc could make these ideas a reality. Already the WA Water Corporation provides cash rebates for the purchase of certain water efficient products and rainwater tanks.
The proposed [desalination] project will be subject to a stringent environmental assessment with significant opportunities for public comment.
Community or environmental groups can register their details with the Water Corporation to be advised when publicly available documents are released. And the general public will also be able to comment when these draft environmental scoping documents are available.