Victoria’s Water Shortage

When we think of deserts we may, have a vision of the Sahara, the Arabia, and the Gobi in China, depending on how geographically aware one is. We normally associate desert with heat, whereas its actual definition lies within the lack of rainfall. Antarctica is also one of the world’s largest deserts.

In Australia, we have the Great Victoria, the Great Sandy, the Gibson and the Simpson deserts. It is no secret that Australia is one of the driest continents in the world. No doubt Burke and Wills would attest to this. There are naturally areas of high rainfall, but are not in the areas where the majority of the population exists.

After the colonisation of the various states of Australia, the government set up the various water authorities within each state. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) was created in 1891, to look after the building and supply of water to the city of Melbourne and its surrounds. Later in the 20th Century it was also responsible for the planning of major roads and arterials. It was later ‘corporatised’ in 1991.

From the MMBW’s inception Melbourne’s water was catered for by the building of storage facilities and dams with respect to the size and needs of the population. Sylvan, Cardinia, Maroondah, are some of the major projects undertaken, with the Thompson being the last.
In the seventies there have been times of water shortage, and the watering of gardens was possible on even week days. In the eighties, the MMBW’s campaign was to “Use Water Wisely”. In the nineties there were also times of water shortage. In recent times, from the 2000’s onwards, we can easily recall times of water shortage. Every decade has had its shortage of water. In the media there is always the mention of the drought. It is therefore of no surprise to the authorities that we live on a dry continent.

Since the trend in global politics is to privatise all government utilities, it is therefore inevitable that most or all of our utilities will be in control of private hands, and possibly in theory in the control of one company. The effects of a monopoly have been proven many times over to be detrimental to the general populous, examples of which are beyond the scope of this document. In the US, laws prevent monopolies from operating. No such laws exist here in Australia.

One solution that the government proposes is one that is cheap and takes away any onus away from it. It’s one that it actively promotes within the media, “Every household a dam”. This directly places the onus on the household owner, where previously this was in the care of the government. There has been no onus laws put forward as the government proposes. In the seventies people who wanted to put in water tanks were forbidden by their local councils, as this would take away revenue from the infrastructure. Currently people who have registered their water tanks, have a higher water bill than prior to registration.

Another solution proposed by the government is that of a desalination plant. Several desalination plants exist in Western Australia, and have been operational for many years.

In countries like Greece and Malta, desalination plants have existed for a long time. The government claims that it is an expensive proposition, but those countries have managed despite a lower GDP per capita than Australia. In this situation the Victorian government, again has been retro – active. The works will be tendered out to a private company, and the price of water will rise significantly. Currently the government sells water to Coca Cola for $1.40 per million litres, whilst the average household payed $0.80 per 1000 litres or over 570 times more than Coca Cola.

In the last generation, there has been an approximate increase in population of 30% in Victoria. Since the ‘corporitisation’ of the water authority in Melbourne, there have not been any new sites developed for water storage or damming. Together with climate change, it is of no surprise that we are currently facing a water shortage. Therefore the direct responsibility for failure to provide the population with adequate water lies within the government.



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