Sustainability Beyond Traveston Dam

The Queensland government has been humiliated by the rejection of the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam on the Mary River. But in proposing the dam the government has also ignored key opportunities for sustainable, responsible development.

Instead of squandering over $500 million of taxpayers money on an unviable dam project, the state government instead could have invested taxpayers’ money in small to large scale businesses, securing our environment and boosting the SE Queensland economy and local jobs.

The first step in reducing medium term demand for water involves turning on the tap.

Having spent almost $3 billion on the SE Queensland water grid, we could now be drawing on as much pure, recycled water that Traveston Dam potentially could have delivered. But the brand new infrastructure of the water grid is currently mostly laying idle, merely supplying two coal fired power stations with water.

Resources are being wasted on an enormous scale. All the premier need do is to turn on the recycled water tap and top up our dams.

The second step to reduce potable water use involves wisely investing the same amount of money set aside for building Traveston Dam for retrofitting domestic homes for sustainability.

The $500 million spent on pre-planning for Traveston could instead have retrofitted 20,000 homes, including rainwater harvesting and domestic waste water recycling using existing ‘off-the-shelf’ Queensland technology. What would 20,000 retrofitted homes offer SE Qld? Around 200,000 megalitres of water would have been left in dams for other people to use over a five year period.

My Brisbane home, ‘Bellis’, was retrofitted for sustainability in 2003. At the time I paid the highest possible price for this – $25k from my life savings. My home is a Queensland government project and we use recycled water to grow 70% of the fresh produce this family of three need, which also cuts shopping bills.

‘Bellis’ (www.bellis.info), my 813 sq metre, award-winning* property has eliminated stormwater generation, harvested 7 megalitres of rainwater, and recycled 3 megalitres of waste water over five years of drought. This means one water-efficient family house has, over five years, left 10 megalitres of water in a dam for someone else to use.

Using economy of scale and incentives, a state government could roll out the same package for around $20k per household at current prices.

Had Traveston Dam been built, this would have cost taxpayers well in excess of $2 billion and Stage 1 could only yield 70,000 megalitres of water a year.

Invested in retrofitting, $2 billion could retrofit over 100,000 homes and save over 160,000 megalitres a year, more than double the projected yield of Stage 1 in a year of good rainfall.

When small, economical, practical and meaningful projects like using recycled water and home retrofitting are widely applied, suddenly the argument for building more dams in SE Qld evaporates. And the community, businesses and the environment need not suffer.

Jerry Coleby-Williams RHS, Dip. Hort. (Kew), NEBSM, MAIH
16th November 2009
Executive Member, Queensland Conservation
Save the Mary River Alliance

* Winner, National SaveWater! Awards, 2009 (built environment)