News | 18th Mar, 2010

Why the rush to ease water restrictions?

Thursday, 18 March 2010
The Age, Editorial

The crisis isn't over until dams fill and all needs are met.

After John Howard pledged in May 1995 ''never ever'' to introduce a GST, never ever lasted four years. On Tuesday, Premier John Brumby announced an easing of Melbourne water restrictions to stage 3, vowing to ''make sure that there are no circumstances in which we would ever, ever have to go back to stage 3a or stage 4''. The reduced restrictions would be ''sustainable in all circumstances, in all conditions, into the longer term''. The motive for both sweeping promises was the same: an election due in less than a year.

Most Victorians rate Labor's water policies as poor. Mr Brumby and Water Minister Tim Holding will argue that conservation strategies, the north-south pipeline and the desalination plant – two projects at odds with Labor's 2006 election policies – have erased the spectre of running dry. Mr Brumby indicated restrictions might be eased further. The result is a mixed message: the government declares lasting relief is at hand while still promoting its ''Target 155'' goals.

So what is the state of water reserves? A dam storage level of 34.7 per cent is still the third-lowest for March in the past 14 years (last year's 30.2 per cent was the lowest). Despite recent rains, dry soils meant catchment run-off was a fifth of the amount after similar rain in October. A sixth of current reserves came from flow restrictions on the Yarra and Thomson rivers, which yielded 108 billion litres over the past 2½ years. Mr Holding says

7 billion litres will be restored to the Yarra and 3 billion to the Thomson but admits that's less than original environmental allocations. As Environment Victoria put it, that means the rivers ''get sick less quickly''.

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