Mad Teddy's Website - ...That bldy pulp mill...!

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...That bldy pulp mill...!

This page added on Tuesday, 29th April 2008

You may have reached this page by clicking on a link within either my "It's still not easy being green" page or my "... LOVE THIS RIVER... ?" page; or you may have arrived here by following some external link I'm not aware of; or perhaps you've simply been made aware of the page's existence by "word of mouth". Whatever the case, welcome; I hope you'll find it interesting and informative.

(To save me having to take up a fair bit of space here with background material, may I invite you to visit either or both or the pages mentioned above, should you feel the need to do so. If you then use your browser's "Search" or "Find..." function to hunt for the words "pulp mill", you'll discover the relevant details quite easily.)

The front page of the Wednesday, April 23, 2008 edition of Launceston's newspaper "The Examiner", under the heading "SPECIAL REPORT", featured the headline "Water: How much we pay". The reader was directed to a double-page spread on pages 6 and 7, featuring an article entitled "What our water is really worth".

The article took as its starting point the fact that there has been, in recent times, some not particularly good news about the Tamar River, which flows north from Launceston to the Bass Strait. We've had a worsening problem with siltation, and an increase - to a worrying degree - of the concentration of E.coli at the river's source.

The main point of the story was nothing to do with the proposed pulp mill, which (if it goes ahead, God forbid) will be situated about 35km north of the city on the eastern bank of the Tamar. However, the mill did rate a mention, at least - and it was this that drew the greater part of my attention.

At one point in the report, it was mentioned that an Olympic swimming pool holds a megalitre of water. That immediately rang alarm bells in my head, because I'd previously calculated the volume of water in an Olympic swimming pool (which I'll refer to as an OSP from here on in, if you'll bear with me) - and I knew that the Examiner's figure was wrong. (In fact, you'll find my earlier calculation, in a different context, in my page about signs, if you'd care to have a look. Scroll just over halfway down the page to find it.)

An OSP is 50 metres long and 25 metres wide, and must officially be at least two metres deep. This means that the volume of water in a correctly filled OSP is at least 50 25 2 = 2,500 cubic metres. Since there are 1,000 litres (i.e. a kilolitre) in a cubic metre, it follows that there are 2,500,000 litres in an OSP, i.e. two and a half megalitres. So the figure given in Wednesday's Examiner was too small by a factor of 2. (In fact, one megalitre of water would only fill an OSP to a depth of 80 centimetres, or about 31.5 inches - more of a "wading pool" than a swimming pool, really.)

I hasten to point out that I'm not trying to score a cheap point at The Examiner's expense here. I've read that the term "Olympic swimming pool" is sometimes used colloquially to mean something quite a bit smaller - for example, hotels may advertise that they have such a thing on their premises, when it's quite clear that they have nothing of the kind. The reason for pursuing the matter in some detail here is that an OSP is something most people can easily visualize (especially now, in an Olympic year), whereas terms like "megalitre", "gigalitre", or even "kilolitre" sound somewhat technical and difficult to grasp; and this page is about (hopefully) aiding people to visualize large volumes of water in easily-understood terms - so it's important to get these details right before proceeding.

Now that we're all talking the same language, let's have a think about the amount of water most of us use on a regular basis. Have a look at this Tasmanian government web-page:

That page contains quite a lot of information about domestic water usage in Tasmania in the financial year 1999/2000. (Granted, that's a bit out-of-date now, in 2008 - but I venture to suggest that the figures would probably be "in the same ball-park" even now, especially since people generally have in recent times become more aware of the water scarcity issue.)

In that page, the figure given for the per-person domestic usage of water in Launceston over the year is 0.17 megalitre, i.e. 170 kilolitres (cubic metres). Indeed, the same figure applies for the average domestic usage for the whole of Tasmania. How would that much water look in an OSP?

Well, since a correctly-filled OSP contains 2,500 cubic metres of water and is 2 metres deep, it follows that 170 cubic metres would fill it to a depth of 170 / 2,500 2 = 0.136 metre, or 13.6 centimetres. That's a bit under 5 inches - just enough to get your tootsies wet.

On a personal note:

A recent water bill for our household (myself, my wife and our son) shows that we managed to slosh our way through 99 kilolitres in a six-month period. Extrapolating a bit, that indicates a usage of about 198 kilolitres over a year for the three of us. This would fill an OSP to depth of 198 / 2,500 2 = 0.1584 metre, or 15.84 centimetres - a whisker under 6 inches. Again, not much more than a paddling pool, basically.

But the thing that surprises me is that each of us uses only about 198 / 3 = 66 kilolitres over a year. That's quite a bit less than the 1999/2000 state average of 170 kilolitres mentioned above; in fact, it's only about 39% of that figure! Aren't we responsible, politically-correct little goody-goodies?!   

Okay? Now let's switch our attention to the amount of water the proposed Tamar River pulp mill will use, if it goes ahead:

The report in Wednesday's Examiner quotes a figure of 26,000 megalitres per year for that amount. (Another way of expressing this is 26 gigalitres.) How deep would our OSP have to be, in order to hold that much water?

Given that a normally-filled OSP (2.5 megalitres) is two metres deep, we'd need a container with the same horizontal cross-section as an OSP to have a depth of 26,000 / 2.5 2 = 20,800 metres. That's 20.8 KILOMETRES!

If, like myself, you're a bit old-fashioned and still think of distances in terms of miles - based on the good approximation 1 mile = 1.6 kilometres, that's a depth of 20.8 / 1.6 = 13 miles.

Either way, it's a bit over two and a third times the height of Mount Everest.

Are you getting my drift?

Lest anyone should wish to accuse me of deliberately scare-mongering - or at least unfairly representing the situation - let's compare this enormous volume of water with something a lot bigger than an OSP, and certainly much bigger than a single family's annual water usage. How about the total domestic water usage for Launceston in a year?

Referring to the Tasmanian government web-page whose link appears above, we find that the total figure given for Launceston in that one-year period was 10,353 megalitres.

How does that stack up against the 26,000 megalitres the pulp mill is expected to use annually?

Well, 26,000 / 10,353 = 2.51135, so that the pulp mill will use about two and a half times as much as the entire 1999/2000 domestic water usage of Launceston!

What about compared to to the state-wide domestic water usage?

The figure given for the whole of Tasmania is 79,953 megalitres - admittedly more than the pulp mill's amount, but only by a factor of about 3.1 - or, to put it another way, the amount used by the pulp mill is 0.325, or nearly one-third, of the total 1999/2000 Tasmanian domestic water usage.

- And just where is that water going to come from?

Again, if you've seen my signs web-page, you'll know that Launceston's Cataract Gorge, which is the final section of the South Esk River (immediately before its confluence with the North Esk, to become the Tamar), has quite a lot less water flowing in it than it did before the Trevallyn Power Station (which provides our city's electricity) commenced operations in the mid-1950's. The pulp mill's water is to be taken by pipeline from Lake Trevallyn - a wide part of the South Esk from whence the power station takes water to run its turbines - so that there will be even less water flowing through the Gorge, and consequently less to flush out high-concentration build-ups of nasties like E.coli in the Tamar River. Aren't we lucky?

There's more.

The above-mentioned pipeline is to built (if at all) at considerable expense to the Tasmanian taxpayer, and will cause considerable incovenience to private land-users along its path during construction. Then once the water is flowing from Lake Trevallyn, according to more figures quoted in last Wednesday's Examiner article mentioned earlier, the pulp mill's cost per megalitre will be $24, as compared to $327 per megalitre for domestic usage. That means that the hapless domestic consumer will be paying 13.625 times as much for a given volume of water as will the pulp mill!

This evening, there's to be a public meeting in Launceston to address the way our State is governed. Terms like "corruption" will get an airing; the relationship between government and big business will come under close scrutiny. We, the people, are on their case.

My website attempts to address a whole range of matters - but, in my mind, they're all related. (Do have a look around the site and see if you can catch my vision.) I'm just doing what I must, and what I can, to bring issues to people's attention, in the hope that it might ultimately make a difference. As a great thinker once said:

"To do what he can,
And to do what he must,
Is the lot of man,
Ere he return to dust."

The current issue I'm addressing is this blasted pulp mill. Please, if you haven't already, find out what you can about it and lend a hand, to help make sure it never eventuates. (Visit my other related pages mentioned above - and again, below - and follow some of the links within them to learn more.)

UPDATE, Saturday 10th May, 2008

I've since found a website with more up-to-date information about Launceston's annual domestic water usage: it's 29 gigalitres, as opposed to the 1999/2000 figure of 10.353 gigalitres mentioned in the web-page whose link appears above. (From the context, I gather that this higher figure is for 2007.)

Admittedly, that's a big increase (actually, it's rather alarming if you think about it!). It's almost a three-fold increase over those seven years. In fact, it's more than the 26 gigalitres per year that the proposed pulp mill will want - but only by about 12%. It in no way reduces the obscenity of the amount the pulp mill's proponents are angling for.

Click here to visit that web-page in which the updated figure is given, and take a few minutes to read carefully the extra details given about the pulp mill's water requirements. (Also, have a look at other pages and links within that site - interesting...)

UPDATE, Tuesday 1st July, 2008


There have been a few changes in the Tasmanian political scene over the last few weeks. Start by having a look at this recently-added Wikipedia link which recounts how we've had a recent change of Tasmanian Premier; also this one to read a bit about our new Premier.

Like most political events in Tasmania, it hasn't been a happy, smooth process. To get a bit more background, click here to read an article published by the Hobart "Mercury" newspaper. (Note that "The Mercury", far from being a left-wing or greenie "rag", is - and has been for a very long time - part of Hobart's establishment. The fact that this matter has been reported with a welcome degree of open honesty is highly significant in itself.)

Make no mistake - "Tassie" is a lovely place to live; but part of the price you have to pay to do so is the continuing shenanigans in the political arena. Many of us long for much better.

When David Bartlett took over as Premier on 26th May, it appeared that he was giving serious consideration to the negative image and bad publicity the Government has had in recent times. He has gone on record as wanting a "kinder" Tasmania; click here to get some idea of what is meant by this.

Many people began to wonder if this "kindness" extends to the residents of the Tamar Valley, who don't want a polluting pulp mill in their area. Then, just yesterday, came the news that the Government has voted to grant the mill's proponent, Gunns, yet another extension of time to commence building the mill.

Meanwhile, just today, the ABC has published a story celebrating the 25th anniversary of the decision to stop the Franklin Dam going ahead. (I've made mention of the Franklin Dam issue in my It's still not easy being green page; do have a look. Scroll about halfway down to just past the photo of the UTG banner on the Tas. Uni. Union building - you can't miss it. )

So there's still reason to hope. We don't intend to give up on the pulp mill issue.

...AND ON... AND ON... AND ON... AND ON... AND ON... AND ON...

UPDATE, Thursday 12th May, 2011

Well, it's been nearly three years since that last update; and quite a lot has happened down here in "Tassie" over that time.

Last year (2010), there was a state election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Premier Paul Lennon, who was very largely responsible for the pulp mill proposal in the first place, has long since departed the political scene. We now have a government made up of a coalition of Labor and Green politicians.

Just last Saturday (7th May), there was an election for three seats within Tasmania's parliamentary upper house, the Legislative Council. One of those three electorates was Launceston, where I live. There were four candidates: one Labor; one Liberal; and two independents. The two "Laboral" candidates, of course, supported the continuing push to establish a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley (where Launceston is) - as did one of the independents. The other independent, a former Dputy Mayor of Launceston, opposes the pulp mill. To see an article published by Hobart's "Mercury" newpaper just a week ago - two days before the election - click here.

So, the election was held last Saturday in Launceston - and guess who won?

Yep - the people of Launceston had the good sense to vote into office the one candidate who stands up for the area's continued quality of life in terms of its clean air, clean water, and just being a lovely place to live (in spite of numerous on-going problems). I was glad to help, by casting my vote on that day. Click here to read an ABC article about what happened.

You may be surprised to notice no reference to the pulp mill proposal in that ABC article. Why might that be?

The fact is that this dreary issue has passed beyond the political arena. All the relevant "nods" have been given (with regard to "environmental studies", etc. etc.) so that Gunns has the legal right to go ahead with the mill - but it still hasn't happened thus far. Why not?

It's fair to say that there have been some changes down here. The big hurdle that the company still has is finding enough funding from any prospective "venture partner" to enable it to go ahead.

Goodness knows they've tried - but so far, mercifully, without success; and time is running out (or so we're told). I don't know all the details, but we're led to believe that if they don't get the necessary funding very soon, the pulp mill will finally die as an issue. (I'll believe it when I see it, however.)

So Rosemary Armitage's election to the Legislative Council can't have any material effect on what happens. However, it's my personal belief that it's deeply symbolic, and sends a message to all and sundry that we stubborn, proud Launcestonians quite simply do not want this pulp mill to go ahead.

The fact is that there is still a real groundswell of opinion about the matter. Several environmental groups continue to oppose the mill in any way they can, including public protests and lobbying potential providers of funding for the project not to get involved. That's people power. It's a long, tedious haul; but it does get results if people are sufficiently committed.

I'd like to give a nod here to a one of these groups - an outfit originally called "Tasmanians Against the Pulp mill" (TAP), who now brand themselves as "TAP into a better Tasmania". Although my own relations with TAP have been somewhat rocky at times (for reasons I won't go into here), I take my hat off to them for providing real leadership in this matter, organising events and coordinating other groups involved in the action.

As I write this, TAP's homepage,, features an article about a rally and march they are organizing this Saturday (14th May; day after tomorrow). It is hoped that it will be a big one; a large enough turn-out may finally send a message to those who need to know that they would be wise not to give the company what it's asking for.

I think I've perhaps said enough for the moment. I'd like to close this update by providing a link to a TAP web-page which features a letter sent by them to a public figure (a former senior trade union official) who was asked by the government to get involved as an "honest broker" in continuing discussions among interested parties in this long-drawn-out affair. I think it explains the "state of play" better than I can in just a few words here.

See you at the rally on Saturday!

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