One of the biggest issues from the state election campaign was let out of the bag last Tuesday night with the announcement by Colin Barnett that if he wins office, he will build a 3,700 km long canal from the Fitzroy River to Perth supplying 200 gigalitres of water per year. According to him it will solve all Perth's water issues.
A couple of things have caught my attention:
- Tenix has claimed the canal can be built for $2 billion, but the WA Treasury has done a preliminary costing and estimated that it will cost closer to $10 billion.
- Colin Barnett has committed himself to this project even though no environmental impact assessment has been made and no discussion with native title holders.
- The contract with Tenix to supply the water will be a "take or pay" contract. So if Perth gets a few good years of rain and the dams are all full again and we don't need the water, we still have to pay. Maybe that is why Tenix is doing the project so cheap. Sell the initial work way under cost and get it back when you rip off the WA government.
- Barnett has stated that the water could be sold for irrigation. One of the backers of the canal behind Liberal party doors is the same person who tried to dam the Fitzroy River to start cotton farming in northwest WA. Cotton farming is extremely water and pesticide intensive and also has a huge impact on the environment. Looking at the proposed path for the canal, it would go through the land that was intended to be used for cotton farming.
- Interesting passage from 'The Australian':
Mr Barnett is proposing a simplistic solution that plays to the populist belief we have a right to use water on whatever we like, and that green lawns and gardens full of European flowers should be the norm. It is the height of hypocrisy to require farmers to factor in the commercial cost of water while people in cities can splash it around regardless of the limited supply. Increasing the price of domestic water may be bad for sprinkler sales, but to spend $2 billion or more on a pipeline to Perth when water scientist Peter Cullen says 50 per cent of the city’s domestic use goes on gardens is absurd. And if engineering is the answer, perhaps Mr Barnett could explain why a canal is superior to a comprehensive recycling system. Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was entirely right yesterday to warn that Canberra would not support the canal without a proper assessment of its costs and consequences.
- The canal will use gravity to move the water most of the way with a minimal number of pumping stations. Won't this cause the flow of weater to be quite slow, increasing the chances of algal growth and stagnation?