The North-South Pipeline

February 5, 2008

While having our Christmas vacation in Victoria, the topic which enraged the rural community most was the looming north-south pipeline. The city of Melbourne intends to take millions of cubic meters of water every day from the Goulburn Valley. In return the state government plans to upgrade the Goulburn irrigation system and take about a third of the estimated water savings to quench the thirst of the state capital Melbourne. However, it will take the water right from the start before any water savings are actually being made.


Where is the water?


So it came as no surprise that the pipeline was at the centre of every talk of every rural gathering, from the ‘latte club’, an informal get-together of farm women every Saturday morning at the roadhouse in Glenburn, to Friday pub nights. All rural folks I met were against the state’s project.

Along the road from Yarra Glen to Yea, posters and billboards have been set up to protest this mega project. It foresees the deviation of ‘rural’ water to urban consumers and the construction of a huge pipeline, pumping stations, holding basins, etc. Landowners along the planned route will not only lose precious land but the pipeline will also cut through paddocks and make access to some parts of rural properties difficult, or impossible. The local people know that there is no water to be taken since the region is already one of the driest and has very limited water resources. There is abundance of supporting evidence, for instance the water level of Lake Eildon is only about 20% of capacity, other lakes and reservoirs show similar low filling levels. The Goulburn Valley is one of the food bowls of Victoria worth more than 9 billion dollars in production and exports.

As someone promoting good democratic governance in “poor” countries overseas, I was appalled by the lack of standard procedures as promulgated by every international and national government code of conduct. No citizens participation worth speaking of had taken place, environmental impacts were not assessed, the population was poorly informed, there was (and still is) no transparency etc. The list of omissions and violations of principles of good governance – for instance as related to public consultations and community involvement – is long. The pipeline project is an example how not to conduct modern governance and I might include it into my teaching materials.

The case shows the general dilemma of rural communities in modern, democratic, urbanized societies. Because of rural-city migration and the resulting distribution of the population (concentration in costal cities), the number of Victorian farmers and other rural voters has declined over the years and with it their importance for the political establishment in political parties, parliament and government. Nobody cares about the plight of rural voters. Urban standards as regards nature conservation, agriculture, livestock breeding, forests and trees are slowly seeping into the regulatory framework of rural dwellers. Urban standards of communication have, alas, not made it to rural life. This change in dominant values is usually to the detriment of the rural populations. Many examples could be cited ranging from the cutting of trees, collection of firewood, harvesting of run off water, and many more.

The case also shows that the rural people have no trust in the state government. Because of the prevailing secrecy and intransigence on the side of the government many farmers expect that, once the pipeline is there, no one can control how much water is actually taken. The fact that the government does not take the current concerns of the rural people seriously further aggravates the suspicion. From Jakarta we cannot do much but hope that the project will be either dropped or significantly altered to meet the needs of the rural populations in Central and North Victoria.


Lake Eildon half empty

Source: Eildon