In 2009 in Australia the State of Government of Victoria contracted for the construction and operation of a desalination plant in Victoria’s South East. The project, a Public Private Partnership (PPP), was completed in 2012.

The final cost of construction was $4billion (aust). (

The total cost of the project is estimated at between $18-19b payable in installments over the plant’s operational life,  27~30 years. (

The operational capacity of the facility 150 gigalitres per annum. (

Maintaining operations over the life of the plant is estimated to be a further $1.5b, regardless of output. (

*im not sure about how much we are charged for water once production starts (I’ll check on that.

Here’s the thing;

The Woori Yallock Basin (the basin) is adjacent Melbourne’s protected water catchment in the Yarra Valley, it is approximately 272 sq klms of which some 80% has been cleared. Early white settlement focused on land clearing and livestock which was followed, in quick succession, by mining exploration (not much), agriculture, post war economic activity, horticulture, viticulture and, more recently, hobby and recreational land uses and urban development.

The basin is a part of the larger economic unit ‘the Yarra Valley’ which is, in general, of low economic value (abares).

The basin is subject to a Streamflow Management Plan (SMP) which excludes groundwater management.

Land prices would seem to exclude, perhaps for the moment, the prospect of large broadacre agricultural concerns establishing.

The basin is dormitory in nature.

I don’t want to focus, for the moment, on these background conditions. Each of which will be considered  independently.

Suffice it to say the basin provides an opportunity to explore the practical implication of the conceptualisation of ecosystem services provision existing as an intrinsic component of the landscape by way of example. Central, by fiat, to this example is water. Because potable water as an ecosystem service can be reliably quantified in monetary terms (dollars) relative to output (litres). In practical terms however, and as evidenced by the willingness of governments to provision for it and citizens willingness to fund it, it provides a solid basis for analysis.

As I said, the basin is about 272 sq. klms, 80% cleared and has an annual rainfall of about 1150 mm (WYSFMP 12/13). It receives then some 312.8 million cubic metres of water per annum, about 300 gigalitres (ibid). The gauged outfall is some 50 gigalitres. Now keep in mind that this outfall could be, all but, gravity fed into Silvan reservoir the superior holding of Cardinia. So, 150 gigalitres of water would not have to be pumped 84 kilometres up a 200ish metre rise. I’m sure there is a joule conversion I could use here, but it’s hardly the point.

The point is, Victoria has suffered badly at the hands of forestry and agriculture. However, at some point, in the not too distant past, it is not unreasonable to suggest the outflow from this valley was not only pottable, but pristine; in the context of natural systems. While remaining true to the central theme here, the exploration of the potential impacts of pro-rata expenditures, equivalent to the desalination option, in the Woori Yallock sub catchment.

I also want to take the time to explore conceptually and practically related ideas.

The catalyst for the restructure of this site, and this post, was a recent article in ‘the conversation’:

The new Commissioner comes with no new tranche of funds to fulfil his mandate. Indeed public conservation funds around the country are going backwards, with direct consequences for threatened species.

For instance, the loss in February of South Australia’s last population of the Endangered Mallee Emu-wren was a direct effect of cuts to the State’s conservation budget – the parks service could not afford to prevent a perfectly controllable fire that killed off the birds.

Yet there is a high level of support in the community for preventing extinctions of threatened species. In a paperpublished last week in PLoS One, almost two thirds of the Australian public (63%) supported funding of threatened bird conservation. Only 6% explicitly opposed such payments.

People indicated that they were willing to pay, on average, about A$11 a year into a conservation fund for threatened birds. Only a few cups of coffee but conservatively this means that Australians would be willing to pay about A$14 million a year, and realistically about A$70 million.

This is substantially more than the $10 million a year thought to be needed to prevent Australian bird extinctions. Translating such enthusiasm into real dollars and action on the ground will be one of the key tasks for the new commissioner.

I think that sometimes it’s easy to miss the forest for all the trees. The ‘basin’ is home to at least 2 endangered species; the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeaters possum.




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