Opinion

Billion dollar flush

By Country News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that 100 Gl of water will be allocated to eligible irrigators for the purposes of fodder production.

Details of how this $100/Ml water can be accessed and how the resulting fodder is administered is another story.

The cost of providing Adelaide with 100 Gl of desalinated water using reverse osmosis to substitute for this irrigators’ allocation needs to be contemplated, as do alternative actions.

Reverse osmosis requires high pressure pumps to move the sea water across membranes that withhold the salt. Modern desalination plants seem to be needing between 2 and 9 Kwh/m3.

In desalination plants the reverse osmosis process generally accounts for about half the total energy dependence of the facility.

Assuming a reverse osmosis power requirement of 3000 Kwh/Ml, the 100 Gl will require 300 000 000 Kwh which, at 10¢/Kwh, has a cost of $30 million, and about $60 million overall.

If the electricity was sourced from a coal-fuelled generator, using coal with a gross energy content of 22 GJ/tonne and a 25 per cent efficiency in converting this energy into electrical energy, some 400 000 tonne of coal is required to provide the facility’s electricity.

Luckily we have a deputy prime minister who encourages us to disregard any of the environmental consequences of such an activity.

Regrettably there was an alternative. This simply would have involved allocating flushing flows.

Since the 1960s, NSW and Victoria have each provided 300 Gl annually to South Australia for the original purpose of diluting former salinity issues.

For well over a decade, the salinity thresholds have never been reached. Despite the flushing flows not being needed they continue as just another unnecessary concession to South Australia.

Had this 300 Gl been allocated to northern Victorian irrigators, and used at the right time, some 600 000 tonne (dry weight) of feed could have been produced and worth at least $180 000 000 at farm level.

This primary production would generate economic activity in our communities of at least twice this.

If similar benefits are attributed to the NSW Riverina irrigators our region would provide around $750 000 000 of economic activity and the coal to desalinate Adelaide’s 100 Gl could be left in the ground.

It is obvious that without ‘big view’ leadership our region is being flushed down the proverbial gurgler.

To add to this story of incompetence, a further 300 Gl of water was run out to sea at Goolwa during October.

After advising our federal water minister and local member of these lost opportunities, we have received no response.

Barry Croke

Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities