sydney dry continues

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    Heat may evaporate salt water solution refusal
    By Anne Davies, State Political Editor
    October 16, 2004

    A looming long dry summer has forced the State Government to reverse its resistance to a desalination plant as a solution to NSW's water-supply problems.

    The metropolitan water plan to be released next week as part of Water Week will include the allocation of $3 million for a feasibility study into a desalination plant.

    But any proposed jump to desalination - which uses significant amounts of energy to turn salt water into fresh - will not impress environmental groups, which favour the reuse of stormwater and recycling of effluent as the answer to Sydney's water crisis.

    In the past the Premier, Bob Carr, has been very critical of desalination and asked the Utilities Minister, Frank Sartor, to prove to him it was not just "bottled electricity". In recent weeks Mr Carr has indicated that all options were being explored.

    However, the continued dry conditions, falling dam levels and the prospect of a long hot summer appear to have convinced Mr Carr of the political imperative of securing a new source of water, particularly one that is independent of rainfall patterns.

    The argument was clinched when rainfall two weeks ago added only 0.3 per cent to the dam level because it soaked into the dry catchment.

    There have also been advances in the technology used for desalination that make it more efficient. The two main methods employ evaporation and micro filters.

    The policy will also include plans for a pipeline from the Shoalhaven River to the Warragamba Dam system - to keep the Sydney dam system topped up at 95 per cent during high flows - and about $60 million to lower the outlets on the major dams to access deep-water storages.

    This last measure alone will increase Sydney's annual water supply of 600 gigalitres by 14 gigalitres.

    Another feature of the plan will be new incentives to save water.

    The rhetoric surrounding the campaign is likely to be ramped up to impress on households that Sydney's water shortages are likely to be permanent, not just a result of the drought.

    Mr Sartor has toyed with the idea of making the retrofitting of energy-efficient devices mandatory in all households. It is now compulsory for all new homes and renovations.

    But efforts to tackle consumption are more likely to target building and filling pools or be linked with other incentives.

    The new water plan is also likely to include a campaign that focuses on business users of water such as restaurants and hotels and office blocks, which have so far been less of a focus in the campaign to save water than domestic users.

    There are also likely to be measures to improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system, which has suffered from choking weed growths and algal blooms in the past few summers because of insufficient releases of water from the dams to keep it healthy.

    A high-level group of experts known as the Hawkesbury Nepean Forum has recommended that environmental flows be increased by 100 gigalitres a year to maintain the river's health.

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