Liz Minchin, Environment Report
The Age, October 20, 2006
Loging in Melbourne's water catchments will continue for at least another two years, despite government-appointed experts conceding it reduces the amount of water running into the city's biggest dam.
This week the State Government released its strategy to supply Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and the Latrobe Valley with water for the next 50 years.
But the strategy did not include any decisions about continuing to log water catchment areas, including higher rainfall areas above Melbourne's main reservoir, Lake Thomson.
Four years ago, an expert committee appointed by the Bracks Government said phasing out logging in the Thomson catchment by 2020 could increase Melbourne's long-term water supply by an estimated 20,000 megalitres a year by 2050 — enough to supply 80,000 Melbourne homes.
Their report, 21st Century Melbourne: a WaterSmart City, called for an investigation to be completed within two years into whether logging in the Thomson Reservoir catchment should be phased out.
Similar recommendations were made in a 2003 Department of Sustainability and Environment paper.
The Government has now commissioned studies into how much water is being lost from logging and whether it could be replaced with timber from plantations outside catchment areas.
But its new water strategy says those studies will not be completed until December 2008, with a Department of Sustainability and Environment spokeswoman confirming that "the project is still at an early stage".
A spokesman for Water Minister John Thwaites defended the time the Government was taking to act, saying "any decision on logging in catchments has to balance any potential increase in water yields with the impact on regional jobs and the economy".
In response, the State Opposition and environment groups accused the Government of trying to delay controversial decisions until after next month's election.
"This is another example of the Bracks Government hiding critical data ahead of the state election," Liberal environment spokesman David Davis said.
Central Highlands Alliance president Sarah Rees said studies going back to 1968 showed that logging reduced water flows into water catchments.
"How many more reports do they need before they'll finally do something?" Ms Rees said.
Meanwhile, Latrobe Valley power workers have called for reassurances about the Government's $2.4 billion plan to use recycled water to cool Victoria's biggest electricity plants, after a Government report suggested it may increase their chances of catching legionnaire's disease.
The feasibility study for the Eastern Water Recycling proposal notes that more chemicals will be needed to treat recycled water used in cooling towers "due to expected higher nutrient levels in cooling water … to control biological growth including legionella".
"I'm concerned that introducing new impurities, new toxins or nutrients into our system … presents a potential risk of increased outbreaks and perhaps the introduction of new bugs," Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union spokesman Greg Hardy said."