The following comes from Central Highlands Action Group and highlights the logging issue within Melbourne’s drinking water catchments.

Starvation Creek – Yarra Catchment. Image: CHAG.

Melbourne Water and Premier Baillieu overcharge us for a desalination plant while they plunder our free water from Melbourne’s catchments subject to logging.

Logging in Toolangi, tributary to the Upper Goulburn, is already ripping 3,807 billion litres of water from ‘paying’ downstream users and irrigators worsening over the next century. VicForests, the governments logging company, don’t pay for this water cost nor do Australian Paper (makers of Reflex copy paper) who receive 50% of VicForests wood supply. The owners of Australian Paper are the Japanese multi-national pulp conglomerate Nippon Paper, whose office is in Tokyo. VicForests have only paid a legitimate rent for this forest ‘use’ once since their inception in 2004.

VicForest have yet to break even since 2005 without the aid of grants. They are insolvent but are exempt from Part IV of the Trade Practices Act that would see these matters investigated by a third party like the ACCC. VicForests have avoided audits by the Auditor General after 8 years of operating.

In 2008 the Victorian ALP government received the results of the Wood and Water study committed to in the Regional Forest Agreement process (RFA) in 1998. The results of the hydrological study recommended ending logging in 2009/10 in order to improve water yields to Melbourne (DSE/Mein 2008). This was flatly rejected by government and as a result environment and local government stakeholders abandoned participation in the study.

As temperatures broke state records, angry at the state governments response to dismissing the option to end catchment logging, fifteen local governments independently carried a motion to stop catchment logging by 2010, including the Melbourne City Council. The government ignored this concern and proposed a very expensive buffer.

In 2008 the state ALP government commissioned a desalination plant and maintained clearfell logging the catchments, which in effect, firmly privatised the otherwise historically free water resource. Melbourne has enjoyed a clean, heathy water supply as a result of government in the late 1800‘s kicking timber-getters and miners out of the catchments. As Melbourne’s population grew, new water sources were channeled and created like the Thomson dam at a considerable cost to Victorians. The Thomson provides up to 60% of Melbourne’s water and is now the most heavily logged catchment in the network.

In the 2010 election the Coalition Minister for Water and Forestry, Peter Walsh, committed to hastening logging rotations down from 80 years to 50 years in the Timber Industry Action Plan (TIAP) in order to create more resource from the dwindling forests. This ultimately means that regenerating forests, after logging, growing in the band of highest rainfall, will be kept in perpetual thirst. Regrowing ash species forests lose up to 50% of water run off at 50 years of age due to their enormous growth capacity. It’s not HOW MUCH you log its where and what species you log that’s costing Melbourne critical free water!

In the TIAP, Minister Walsh made a commitment to log parks and strengthened commitments to log water catchments as an electoral promise to his National party colleagues (many of whom are loggers). So under current policy and its effects, our catchments will never yield water at their maximum delivery and we have to pay for the forfeiture via a desalination plant no-one can afford. Minister Walsh runs VicForests and Melbourne Water so he sets any checks and balances, should any exist.

In this Melbourne By-Election voters should demand that candidates openly declare their policy on Melbourne’s Water! It maybe the single greatest issue for the sustainability and survival of Melbourne.

Check here for details on protests held earlier in 2012.