Victoria opts for recycling over desal

Melbourne won’t need another desalination plant for up to 50 years under a new plan to manage the city’s water, the Victorian government says.

Using recycled water for non-drinking purposes, as well as developing a system where people will be rewarded for saving water, are key elements of the strategy.

The Office of Living Victoria (OLV) will develop a regulatory impact statement of minimum water standards for new buildings.

Water Minister Peter Walsh said more water runs off Melbourne’s streets and into the ocean than the city uses in a year.

Storm water harvesting and using recycled water for non-drinking purposes, such as maintaining sporting ovals and parks, was the key to managing Melbourne’s long-term water needs rather than expensive infrastructure, he said.

“This postpones the need for another desal plant or some other major augmentation for up to 50 years,” he told reporters.

A desalination plant, ordered by the former Labor government and being built at Wonthaggi, will cost Melbourne ratepayers millions in security payments even when no water is ordered.

The OLV will examine how to structure water bills to give people incentives to harvest rainwater.

“Currently if you save water, it doesn’t have a significant impact on your bill so they are the sorts of tariff options we’d like to explore where there is actually reward for people to do the right thing with saving water,” Mr Walsh said.

He ruled out using recycled water for drinking.

Living Victoria ministerial advisory council chair Mike Waller said water restrictions should be used only as a last resort.

“You don’t want a system in any industry where effectively the suppliers turn around and say you can’t consume the product,” he told reporters.

He said if the government had not begun reforming the urban water management system now, another desalination plant might be necessary in about a decade.

Opposition frontbencher Martin Pakula said introducing tougher water standards for new homes would slug people struggling to get into the property market.

He said the government should use the $750 million north-south pipeline, which it has said it won’t use except in circumstances of critical need.

“The danger is the government imposes a big water tax because they don’t want the embarrassment of turning on a pipeline that they promised they wouldn’t,” Mr Pakula said.