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Securing Melbourne’s water supply

Melbourne’s metropolitan water authorities are preparing for the first delivery of water from the Victorian Desalination Plant following an announcement from the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, the Hon. Lisa Neville.

7 March 2016

The decision to order water is made by the Minister for Water each year. The advice provided to the Minister by the metropolitan water authorities recommended that 50 billion litres of water be ordered from the desalination plant to redress recent storage losses and protect future supplies. 

Supporting the decision, the Minister also re-launched the successful Target 155 water efficiencies initiative.

Driven by lower streamflows and higher summer demand with very dry conditions, water storages dropped 152 billion litres (8.3% of capacity) in 2015, following a decline of 64 billion litres (3.5%) in 2014. 

Melbourne has now entered the third year of declining storages, with inflows into Melbourne’s storages in 2015 (306 billion litres) below the average experienced in the Millennium drought (376 billion litres).

While it is good to see Melburnians have continued to maintain water efficiencies and usage has not returned to pre-drought levels, water demand has increased to 414 billion litres last year, which is well above storage inflows. 

Melbourne Water Managing Director, Michael Wandmaker, said given the year on year reduction in storage volumes, it was appropriate to access additional water to ensure security of supply. 

"The desalination plant supplies rainfall-independent, large-scale drinking water. It is part of Melbourne’s diverse range of actions and initiatives to reduce the pressure on our drinking water supplies, including recycled water projects, local stormwater re-use initiatives and improved water conservation," said Mr Wandmaker. 

"The 50 billion litre order will help refill Melbourne’s water storages and place us in a better position to rebuild storage volumes, supporting population growth, climate change and year to year weather fluctuations. It also provides a buffer against extreme events like bushfire and severe drought. 

"When talking about something as critical as drinking water for Melbourne and surrounds, we need a system we can count on."

The recommendation to order water was based on detailed modelling, analysis and long-term scenario planning. 

It considered a range of factors such as the best balance of security of supply, current and forecast storage conditions, water demands, water supply operations, Bureau of Meteorology outlooks and cost to customers.

The 50 billion litre desalinated water order is expected to increase the average residential household water bill by around $12 in 2016/17.

Speaking on behalf of Melbourne’s three water utilities, Yarra Valley Water Managing Director, Pat McCafferty, said: “We learnt a lot as Victorians during the Millennium drought, we appreciate what a precious resource water is and how it contributes to the community’s liveability. We have implemented world leading practices to reduce water usage and these have become part of the responsible norm. The Target 155 initiative was successful in raising awareness about how we all could make changes to our day-to-day routine to be even more water efficient. 

"The importance of water in our community reaches much further than what comes through the taps in our homes. The threat of drought is never far away living in such a dry continent but the shifts that occurred during the Millennium drought mean we are more prepared than ever before to meet the needs of our community."

A summary document explaining the water industry’s technical analysis that informed the Minister’s water order decision can be found on the Melbourne Water website.