Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Growth spurt draining the state dry

Cyclone Odette may have been the last chance to receive drenching rain to top up the parched dams of the southeast corner before the winter, and it passed by leaving just a few drops.

In the same week, the Federal Government announced it will fund the long-awaited $2.3 billion Goodna bypass, and yesterday I received a rebate from the State Government for installing a water tank.

The connection between these three events is water, and more specifically, the lack of this precious resource in the dams around southeast Queensland. As we enter our dry season under the imposition of level 5 water restrictions, residents are being expected to cut their domestic water use to a scarce minimum. To offer further incentive, the state and local governments are offering grants to install water tanks for residential buildings. But if the State Government and Brisbane City Council were truly serious about the issue, and serious about the long-term sustainability of the region, why are they now spending many billions on large infrastructure projects designed to encourage rapid development?

The connection between the water crisis and the rapid scale of development in Queensland is clear to many people. Not only do more people need more water, but the development of new homes, workplaces and infrastructure requires massive amounts of water before and during construction.

The water required in the production of goods is known as embodied water, and has been overlooked in the decision-making processes for development in the southeast corner. In construction projects, the volumes of embodied water are extremely high. Recent studies from Deakin University show that the embodied water of a three storey office building designed to high environmental standards is about 54,100 litres per square metre of space. This is the equivalent of 18 3000 litre domestic water tanks, six months' domestic consumption by one person, or enough drinking water for one person for 37 years.

In the Brisbane CBD alone there is an estimated 100,000sqm of office space expected to be constructed this year, which would use about 5.4 billion litres of our supply – almost equal to the domestic consumption of Bundaberg with a few million litres to spare.

To offer some ballpark figures on embodied water, the CSIRO has found there is about 140 litres of embodied water for every dollar's worth of steel, and 15 litres for every dollar's worth of concrete. Other less reliable evidence suggests there is in the order of 40 litres of embodied water per dollar spent on construction.

Based on these figures, one might wonder how much water is going to be required to build Campbell Newman's TransApex plan. The North-South Bypass Tunnel alone will use 280,000 cubic metres of concrete and cost in the order of $3 billion (or will it cost us 120 billion litres of water?)

And what about the other infrastructure projects which have been proposed, such as the Goodna Bypass, or those under construction?

Putting enormous pressure on residents to save every drop seems ludicrous among this wastefulness. Even if every person in Brisbane saved 10 litres per day this year, it would be the equivalent of about 4 percent of the embodied water of the NSBT.

If the State Government is serious about water, it must get serious about limiting the scale of development in southeast Queensland. When you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging. When you find that you have outgrown your natural resources, you stop growing.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post - we rarely investigate whether we actually want all this growth.