The North-South Pipeline

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


36 Responses to The North-South Pipeline

  1. falcon22 says:

    I totally agree with this article. The pipeline is only beneficial to the urban population of melbourne. I have grown up holidaying at lake eildon and have watched it’s supply dwindle. Although it was sad to see happen, i was always reminded that it was for the farmers.
    I also come from rural victoria and know how hard it has been through the most driest times in history. i understand that melbourne need water, but what happens when the farmers recieve less water and cant grow crops to sustain us? Food prices increase, and our farming sector becomes smaller and smaller.
    Why not use the money and provide tanks to some communities, that way they are less reliant on the dam water and are also self efficient?
    There must be other ways to combat this problem.

  2. Jo says:

    Excellent article on the n-s pipeline – you will be interestd in the recently released data from CSIRO and Sustainable Rivers re the dire state of the Goulburn in the context of the unfolding tragedy of the Murray Darling system.
    We have a plot at Glenburn – might bump into you one of these days!

  3. Campbell Hulme says:

    Hi there! It’s Cam! I agree totally for this article, I’m from rural N.S.W, on a farm near Holbrook and I know exactly how you guys feel about the North South pipeline, furthermore, water is precious and the Victorian Gov. shouldn’t be taking that resource away from the Victorian communities, we need it…Why give it to Melbourne?
    I just hope that the project will come to an end, and no more dramas!
    I’m 15 and I go to school at St.Paul’s College, walla walla! It’s small, so it’s easy to miss!

  4. Thanks Cam for the encouragement. I guess it will go through, though. But never mind, problems are often ‘not solved’ but instead they are being transformed into something new, of course they remain ‘problems’. Cheers Rainer

  5. Excellent article right on the money !!! What a disaster this will be; as you say just another problem will be created by this. This pipe-line should be stoped and as resident of Melbourne I do not want “stolen water” that is if there is any water left to come down the pipeline. As the cost of water and food rises due to the lack of water in the food bowl area, maybe then the people of melbourne will help join the fight…. this money could be better spent.

  6. Hi Amelia, thanks for the encouragement. We somehow have to make better plans to safeguard our resources. The recent rains might have helped a little but we need a long-term approach. Keep discussing the issue with family and friends, that might go a long way and change the perception. Thanks again. Cheers Rainer

  7. Peter says:

    Can’t wait for the pipeline!

    Melbourne needs more water!

    Unfortunately there will be very little water to pump through the pipeline.

    This will become the last project that the current Victorian Labor Government attempts to deliver for Victoria before they are kicked out of office for a very long time.

    There is simply not one major project that they can deliver correctly for Victoria.

    The only good part of this pipeline is that some people are kept employed at the moment constructing it.

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