Will Traveston Dam be Anna Bligh’s Waterloo?
THE evaporation of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s hopes of building the Traveston Dam could end up being her Waterloo.
But last week’s intervention by Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett to scuttle the controversial $1.6 billion dam planned for the Mary Valley, north of Brisbane, citing ecological concerns, also has wider political and planning implications across Australia.
Unlike the protests against Tasmania’s Franklin River dam project in the 1980s where generating hydro-electricity was the primary motive, the Traveston is a portent of battles likely to be waged around the country involving choices between protecting the environment and supplying drinking water to keep pace with urban growth.
Water is a resource every capital city is going to need to find more of as the nation’s population surges to an estimated 35 million in the next 40 years.
The fallout from the Queensland Government’s bid to “water-proof” one of Australia’s fastest growing regions is a sign that governments will be made or broken by the way they provide for the future needs of their citizens.
While residents of the mainly dairy-farming Mary Valley were cheering Peter Garrett as their saviour for blocking the proposed Traveston Dam, an increasingly unpopular Anna Bligh was boxed in by the federal decision forcing her to consider other sources of liquid sustenance.
The problem for the Premier is that her Plan B of fast-tracking the construction of expensive desalination plants is likely to plunge her into even deeper water and threatens to drown her chances of retaining government at the next state election in 2012. Worse still for Bligh, questions are being asked within the Labor Party whether she can remain as leader until then in light of her leaking public support.
Garrett’s unexpected announcement last Wednesday of his “intention to say ‘no’ to Traveston Dam” triggered a fast-flowing reaction from online readers of Brisbane’s Courier-Mail, mostly supportive of the decision but questioning the alternatives.
Peter of Tin Can Bay expressed the thoughts of many readers opposed to the dam: “Congratulations to Peter Garrett. I am not an anti-dam person and believe the need for one. But when it affects such a large area of prime land like the Mary River I am opposed. Usually dams are built in a gorge-type location, not displacing hundreds of people and flooding prime agricultural land.”
Lorraine Taylor of Pacific Paradise echoed much of the support for Garrett’s decision in a comment on abc.net.au: “Fantastic. At last common sense has prevailed. This dam was a no-go right from the start. The massive effect on the environment could not be ignored and finally a politician has put environment over votes.”
Back on the Courier-Mail site, Mitch of Brisbane was also concerned about the $600 million the Bligh Government had wasted on a doomed dam: “Can we get back the money the Government has spent on the project so far? Though I wasn’t against the dam nor in support of it, this has been a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money. Well done to the people of the Mary Valley for standing up for themselves and telling the stupid government where to stick it.”
Already in the weeks before her failure to secure the go-ahead for the Traveston Dam, Bligh’s support as Premier had plummeted to a low of 30 per cent following a string of unpopular decisions punctuated by an ongoing push to sell state assets in order to plug a gaping black hole in the budget.
But within hours of Garrett’s announcement on the Traveston, her pledge to spend $3 billion to bring forward plans for two desalination plants to secure future drinking water supplies in the state’s southeast unleashed a new wave of criticism.
Richard Ward of Glamorgan Vale commented on the Courier-Mail site: “Now that Traveston is dead it seems somewhat premature to say that the only solution is desalination plants. Why doesn’t this Premier sit back, take a deep breath and perhaps a cold shower and consider how to engage with Queenslanders to solve our problems?”
The Bligh Government’s desalination push is mired in a controversy of its own. The state’s first such plant on the Gold Coast came under considerable criticism last year after it was found some parts were rusting away even before it was completed. It is yet to reach full capacity.
Meanwhile, a $2.4 billion recycled water pipeline network is sitting largely idle after disagreement among southeast Queenslanders over the prospect of drinking their own treated waste.
But in the face of building money-hungry desalination plants, the concept of swallowing recycled water seems to be a lot more palatable for many, such as Bree of Brisbane: “We already have a recycled water grid that can be used to fill the gap left by the abandoning of the Traveston Dam project. Why spend any money on desalination plants? Complain all you want, but at the end of the day would you rather drink recycled water or plunge our state into even more unwarranted debt?”
Alternative ideas from Courier-Mail online readers included raising existing dam walls to encouraging greater reliance on stormwater capture and household water tanks.
Terrano of Innisfail called for the Bligh Government to consider a bold nation-building scheme to channel water from the state’s tropical north: “Get a pipeline running from the Burdekin Dam. Enough water overflows from this dam to supply all of southeast Queensland every wet season (four olympic swimming pools every second at some times). Surely this should be a viable alternative.”
BB added: “Queensland has the potential for great things when it comes to water capture and usage other than recycled water. It just requires a bit of thinking outside the box and being radical enough to use those ideas.”
While heavy rains earlier this year have replenished southeast Queensland’s dam storages, for the Bligh Government, time is running out electorally to secure a longer-term solution to the water crisis that won’t lead to her defeat.
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