Desal plant ‘may be needed’

Victoria’s desalination plant at Wonthaggi could be switched on to deal with water shortages in rural areas.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville said given increasingly dry conditions in parts of the state, government was considering the best ways to use Victoria’s water grid, including the desalination plant.

The Aquasure facility has sat idle since it was opened in 2012 and has been estimated to cost $4 billion to supply water to Melbourne and Geelong.

A spokesperson for Ms Neville said irrigation allowances were particularly low in parts of western and northern Victoria.

However, central and east Gippsland were the exception at 100 and 92 per cent capacity respectively.

Gippsland Water spokesman Paul Clark said water storage for the Latrobe Valley, which feeds out of Moondarra, was at 100 per cent.

“All our major storages are in a good position following the winter period as we come into the hot months,” Mr Clark said.

Activist group Watershed Victoria president Mark Robertson said the State Government was trying to “show off” its great white elephant to validate the facility.

The longstanding Wonthaggi resident said the facility was unlikely to create many local jobs and the town was still waiting for government promises to the town, including a hospital upgrade and new school.

“The Water Minister needs to have a conversation with the community about it, but they have pointedly not had a conversation with us for the last seven years,” Mr Robertson said.

Fellow campaigner Jessica Harrison said her heart sank when she heard the news.

“I’ve been thinking about the pollution going out to the ocean… as we know there’s solid waste out of a desalination plant that goes to landfill and a caustic solution into the ocean to clean filters,” Ms Harrison said.

“Local people still share a lot of anger and frustration and want to make government think of sustainable solutions.”

A spokesperson for Ms Neville said the desalination project had the highest levels of environmental assessment and regulatory scrutiny, including by the EPA.

“The project’s electricity for operation is also fully offset by the purchase of Renewable Energy,” the spokesperson said.