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It’s jiggery-pokery as usual in the Huon Valley. Suddenly, but back to front, Southern Water is starting to construct its seriously flawed valley water scheme. It is beginning at its southeastern extreme (the section from Cradoc south to Cygnet on the eastern shore of the Huon), rather than where it starts (a few kilometres northwest of Huonville).

Suspicious Cygnet locals see this as a tactic that will kill off their opposition to their township being included in the scheme. They believe Cygnet is about as much in need of a new water supply as the Pacific Ocean; and they are fearful that water-main consumers throughout the valley will be forced to pay huge rates for a supply that Cygnet does not require.

No one seems to know just how much the total valley scheme will cost — the latest official estimate is at least $30 million (up from an initial $25 million ball-park figure) — but everyone knows how the cost of such big projects soar once the point of no return is reached.

The valley scheme is a hare-brained mishmash cobbled together in secret over several years by the Huon Valley Council and then, under new State Government law, handed last year (with all the valley’s water supply infrastructure) to the newly formed and still administratively inept Southern Water.

The plan, conceived with no public consultation, is to pump water taken from the Huon River north of Huonville south along the western shore of the river as far as Geeveston and, via a pipeline crossing the Huon between Franklin and Cradoc, south to Cygnet.

The council was tempted into designing the scheme by a federal bribe of $12 million on condition it found the other half of the then estimated cost. That was years ago, and, as we all know, although costs soar, there is fat chance of getting anything more than what was originally promised from federal coffers.

So, who is going to pay for the so-far extra $5 million by which the estimate of the project has grown? Southern Water, when you ask it — and several Cygnet locals have been quizzing the agency’s reps when they have been staging their friendly information sessions — is simply not saying. And information requests sent straight to the top of Southern Water have not been answered.

The Huon Valley water scheme has all the hallmarks of something going off half-cocked. Also, by starting it back to front, it smacks of official sharp practice: is Southern Water thinking that, by adopting this tactic, it will both short-circuit Cygnet criticism and make it impossible to force it to abandon the scheme should costs fly even further out of control?

Some water-main consumers fear they eventually will be hit with outrageous bills for a project that is unnecessary at least for the people of Cygnet. And, in an effort to reduce their bills, if they start limiting themselves to short showers every few days; doing their washing-up and laundry less often; being more sparing in their gardens; and adopting all sorts of other water-saving techniques (including installing water tanks), Southern Water, like power authority Aurora, is likely to find itself struggling to make ends meet, let alone make a profit for its owners (southern local government councils). This would then mean an even greater burden on the state’s taxpayers as a whole. We are all far too familiar with government subsidies and handouts for inefficient industries and authorities. We certainly don’t want any more.

Cygnet has a perfectly adequate local water supply, and will continue to have one even if the town doubles in size in the next few decades (highly unlikely). What is needed is for someone to get around to plugging the leaks (some naturally occurring, others perhaps just plain convenient) along the Grey Mountain pipeline to the township. The Grey Mountain line could even be replaced for far less than it will cost to run a pipeline all the way from Franklin.

As things stand, the gravity-fed pure water supply from the human-pollution-free Grey Mountain catchment area just northeast of Cygnet is in danger of being lost. And it is to be replaced by questionable-quality water (certainly heavily processed) from a supply from more than 20 kilometres away that has to be pumped over a high hill at great cost and huge energy expenditure at a time when we are increasingly aware that our age of cheap and plentiful energy will soon be but a memory.

Other factors in Southern Water’s ploy may be at work. If they are, they are a close-kept secret.

Whatever are the full facts, those who are forcing this silly project on Cygnet should take a long, cold shower. It might bring them to their senses.