Easing water restrictions in Victoria may have an undesirable impact on the fight against climate change. According to a recent article in The Age, “the sight of greener gardens and healthier trees that will regain our image as the ‘garden state’ will also turn people’s attention away from the bigger environmental picture – that is global warming”. The soon to be available extra water also means more greenhouse emissions and more climate change.
Some observers expressed that for many Australians climate change wasn’t a real issue until their backyards began to turn brown. Water restrictions for these people were the most visible and tangible manifestation of the drought and that there is something going on with our climate. Lifting water restrictions is sending the wrong message to the public and once again relegates concerns about global warming to the back of their minds. However, the extra water won’t be falling out of the sky either.
Unfortunately the lifting of water restrictions is not entirely due to the restoration of normal rainfall and increased dam levels (which may have appeared so during the deluges of the last few months) but due to the completed construction of the north-south pipeline and the controversial desalination plant near Wonthaggi. (Some cynics say it is also due to the upcoming state elections).
Ironically, to compensate for the reduced rainfall which is most likely a consequence of changed weather patterns, we are building a desalination plant that is extremely energy intensive and polluting. The annual energy use of the plant will be around 900 GWh. The pollution from this will equal to putting 365,000 cars on the road emitting around 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 (in terms of black balloons that’s around 30 billion of them). This is not including the ‘carbon footprint’ of the plant during construction, which equals to about 1.4 million tonnes of CO2. It is still not clear where the extra energy will come from but it was suggested that gas-fired power stations.
There are of course many other side effects of the desal plant that environmentalists highlighted, such as producing 30,000 tonnes of solid waste that include toxic chemicals and 200 million tonnes of brine that will be pumped back into the ocean each year. All of which will impact on marine life without knowing what the ultimate outcome will be.
Many people believe that we should be focusing on better ways to capture and store the remaining rainwater instead of constructing desalination plants that will significantly increase greenhouse emissions which in term contribute to the larger issue of climate change. Despite the reduced levels of rainfall it is still more than enough to cover our water usage if it is harnessed properly. Money would be better spent providing households with water tanks, which would have much less impact on climate change. Otherwise, we will have to deal with more than just shorter showers and not being allowed to water our gardens or wash our cars at home.