Amazing botchup with future Canberra “water security” by utility ACTEW

The Canberra Times reports today that “Thieves threaten our water supplies” – referring to doubts that water purchased by the ACT from Tantangara Dam could reach ACTEW’s pipeline to Googong Dam at Angle Crossing on the Murrumbidgee River without being “stolen” by NSW landholders along the way – note the pipeline is currently under construction. A year ago Prof Ian White of ANU warned ACTEW of this exact issue. Note that he also warned that ACTEW had paid too much.
I still have to pinch myself to think that any prudent water authority would buy water from Tantangara unless it was on the basis of a price per unit – ex the river metered in the ACTEW pipeline. Then it is up to the seller, NSW State Water Authorities – to let the water run the 150km from Tantangara Dam to Angle Crossing. In my opinion the ACT Govt should retrench many high level ACTEW people incl most of the huge board. Water supply for a medium city of 300K people does not need the bloated ACTEW to work well. The ACTEW boss has a salary package $637K – cop that for a small utility. While on that subject ACTEW should cease sponsoring sporting teams and should drastically cut back much wasteful ACTEW TV advertising.
I notice at the end of todays article National Irrigators Council chief executive Tom Chesson complains that, “Everyone up and down the river is taking a haircut to provide environmental flows, except Canberra.”

Canberra people have been “taking a haircut” by reducing their per capita water consumption for years – and at the same time paying more for less water. Unlike NSW water users down the river who pay much less for their town supplies.

4 thoughts on “Amazing botchup with future Canberra “water security” by utility ACTEW”

  1. Increasing water charges, water use restrictions and unceasing propaganda about “water wastage” led to reduced usage in Adelaide too. Although, thanks to the dilapidated pipes, SA Water loses as much as Adelaide retail users consume.

    The charges are still rising but the others have been dropped as the State Government realises that it has an expensive desalination plant coming on stream, which will (and must) be running regardless of need. So it now needs to boost consumption. Since the best estimate is that the water will cost 4 times that of the stuff from the dams, the Government has obviously decided to raise the retail price of water to 4 times what it was before they signed up for the desal. plant and “fixed the problem”.

    From the articles it appears that users upstream of Canberra can help themselves to as much water as they want, unlike the rest of the State where they have to have a licensed pump and meter (and 5 or 6 unlicensed pumps for when the inspector isn’t around).

  2. Warrick,

    The composition of this ACTEW board is a large improvement on that in place over much of the last decade. At least now there are several members that have scientific qualifications. The major problem is that the board serves its owners, nominally the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister rather than the interest of the ACT community. Only occasionally has there been any evidence that the organisation disagrees with government policy. Over the last decade the organisation retained no profit to allow the business to expand but paid all profit as a dividend to the government.
    Perhaps the Non Executive Chairman of the Board, John Mackay wears too many hats in Canberra to give this job $71000 worth of attention.

  3. Warrick,

    A reaction from irrigators was always on the cards. Not only is Canberra the base from which the Murray-Darling Basin Authority works and where the Australian Government will legislate the plan, the ACT government submission indicated it accepted the draft plan in principle only arguing that the region be given a different basis on which to judge its water use. As well, the vast majority of submissions made up to the cut off point for consideration from individuals and environmental organisations based in Canberra were unsympathetic to irrigators and called for cuts, in the main of up to 7600 gigalitres and didn’t consider the situation of urban Canberra. This egregious example is from the Conservation Council of the ACT Region submission.

    To a proportion of the agricultural sector, a wetland is a swamp that has yet to be drained for productive agriculture, and water entering wetlands is simply seen as a loss to productive use

    Five weeks after the release of the Guide to the Draft Plan both ACTEW and the ACT Department of the Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Water did not know where the figures used to come up with the present Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) of 51GL had come from. This still left the urban areas of Canberra and Queanbeyan and a population of 400000 with a SDL of 35GL as had been negotiated in 2008. 20 percent of the Basin population was to get 0.2 percent of the water. The SDL was to drop to
    to between 20 and 27 gigalitres.

    It seems the consultation between the ACT government and the MDBA that had been mandated in the 2007 Water Act, Section 42 had not been carried out effectively.
    The Authority was also mandated to apply the best science when formulating the plan (Section 4 b). There was nothing in three volumes of the draft plan relating to water use in towns or cities or to flows within the ACT. Nor was the fact that urban areas produce large stormwater flows considered. The requisite socio-economic study was not carried out for the ACT.

    The ACT government has been able to argue its case but will need to be allowed to increase diversions as the population grows. Because a very large component of the water cycle is evapotranspiration which doesn’t occur from roofs and paving, new suburbs of the density now being built will add marginally to flows in the Murrumbidgee River.

    The ACT Government should have foreseen the political nature of any decision in the Territory’s favour and demanded that the Authority explain that it is not favouring the ACT and release details of the scientific and economic basis for its decision.

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