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Revised water restrictions in Victoria - will this challenge unite the industry?

Representatives of the Water Restriction Review Working Group held a consultative meeting with a packed room of Victorian horticultural industry representatives on April 18.

The Horticultural industry, represented by the Victorian Coalition for Sustainable Water use (ViCSWU), met with five representatives of the Victorian Government to discuss the new water restrictions regime.

The spokesperson for ViCSWU is Adam Richards and ViCSWU represents the following industry bodies:
Nursery & Garden Industry Victoria NGIV)
Lawn Mowing Contractors (LMC of Vic)
Seed Industry Association (SIA)
Landscape Industry Association of Victoria (LIAV)
Turf Grass Association of Australia (TGAA Vic)
Irrigation Association of Australia (IAA Vic region)
Turf Producers Association (TPA Vic).

It was revealed that the domestic component of Victorian water usage was 60% of the total water usage in Victoria and that the outdoor (horticultural) component represented 22% of this figure. In the event of water restrictions the new proposal forces gardeners and the horticultural industries to save 6% of Melbourne's present water usage under Stage 1 Restrictions and 11% under Stage 2 Restrictions. These savings were apparently achieved by restrictions in 2004/2005 but a growing population will put huge strains on achieving them again.

It was also noted that the restrictions imposed in 2004/2005 caused enormous hardship on many horticultural businesses and even forced some to close.

It soon became obvious that this industry was an easy target for government rulings because of its failure to present a united industry front providing information such as number of employees, annual revenue, annual turnover, estimated potential job losses etc to the government.

The matter of lawn exemptions was brought up by the TPA , commenting on the fact that they had to reapply for exemptions that were granted in 2004. "Yes", according to David Elliot, "You have to apply for them again" and what about the exemptions of the domestic user with new rolled turf compared to a homeowner who cannot water their existing lawn at all under Stage Two? Is that one rule for the wealthy and one for the others? Elliot's answer was, "user pays"!

Principal areas of discussion

  • The distinction between lawn and garden was discussed, noting that gardens should constitute both plants and grass. It was made clear to the authorities that gardeners were turned off gardening when they were not able to water their lawns.
  • Infrastructure projects as an alternative to water restrictions. eg: compulsory third pipe into new estates, repair of stormwater drains.
  • Existing catchment areas and stormwater drains can probably sustain a population of 2mil not 3mil or more as envisaged by government.
  • Government policy on promotion of water saving devices and water saving behaviour to the domestic user.
  • Melbourne Water's negative reporting of the catchment levels ie: half empty instead of over half full.

  • It was reported that the 200 top commercial users in Metropolitan Melbourne have not been given any water saving mandates. It was obvious from the discussions that the large `corporates' would not be forced to save water as they were looked upon differently to a large collection of small businesses such as those represented at the meeting. It was stated that the Top 200 commercial users represent 12% of total water usage across the state. They are reluctant to invest in water saving devices as there is no genuine dollar saving to be made. Clearly the commercial price of water is too cheap to encourage water saving.

    The need to consult international and national water bodies on their experiences was noted. For instance, it was stated that Beijing had banned watering of gardens and lawns some years ago only to be horrified by the environmental and social impact that this action caused. Pollution has increased due to a lack of plants and social problems have arisen with children not having decent outdoor areas for recreation that includes shade trees, trees to climb and grass to play on. Beijing has had to hastily rethink its decision.

    The meeting concluded with workshops where stakeholder input was documented to be collated into a working document for presentation to the Review Board.

    If you are in any of the above industries you need to ask:
    Are we really saving enough water?
    Is Victoria going to become the desert state?
    Who is going to suffer the most under strict water saving regulations?
    Is ViCSWU able to convince the state government that the burden of water savings should not lie solely with this group?
    Other stakeholder forums held were the Victorian Sporting Association, Victorian Municipal Councils, Manufacturing and Retail and Motor Industry.

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