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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1541

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (11:53 AM) —The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme, known as the WELS Scheme, was established by the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005. The scheme’s objectives are to conserve water supplies by reducing water consumption, to provide information for purchasers of water-use and water-saving products and to promote the adoption of efficient and effective water-use and water-saving technologies. The scheme requires that specified products offered for sale be registered and labelled to indicate their assessed water efficiency. This efficiency is indicated by a star-rating system of up to six stars, with six stars being awarded to the highest-performing products. The labels inform purchasing decisions in the same way as do energy rating labels on electrical appliances.

Since the scheme was introduced in 2005, there has been good evidence that it is positively influencing consumer preferences. Studies have estimated that, by 2021, 800 gigalitres of water will have been saved through the scheme. That is more water than is in Sydney Harbour. The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities determines which products will be included in the scheme and the standards they must meet. Currently, WELS products are showers, toilets, urinals, taps, dishwashers, clothes-washing machines and flow controllers. The plumbing products currently covered by the scheme are also subject to the WaterMark certification scheme, which operates under state and territory plumbing regulations.

WaterMark testing and certification is intended to ensure that plumbing products are fit for use and will not threaten the safety of the reticulated water supply. WaterMark certification is required before a plumbing product can be legally installed, while registration and labelling is required before a product can be offered for sale. This regulatory difference means that in some cases consumers may unknowingly purchase WELS plumbing products which, while legally available, cannot legally be installed. In addition, the presence of WELS labels on products which are not WaterMark certified may be misconstrued by consumers as suggesting that the products are government endorsed as fit for use.

The proposed change to the scheme in the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment Bill 2010 will remove these concerns by enabling additional plumbing requirements, such as those established by the states and territories, to be included as requirements in the WELS Scheme by ministerial determination. There is industry support for this amendment, which will enable the provision of positive outcomes for consumers and for plumbers. The plumbing industry is a vital component in driving a sustainable future. Water is the key. Plumbers are involved in almost every aspect of water delivery and have in their hands the ability to advocate energy- and water-saving devices and strategies to both domestic and commercial applications.

As I have mentioned in the parliament before, in my own electorate of Wills the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre is undertaking great work to train and skill tradespeople in energy efficient and green-collar jobs. At the opening of this facility, the former Victorian Premier John Brumby commented:

Green plumbing is the number one skills issue for Victorian plumbers, with a recent report estimating that no more than 10 per cent of the State’s 20,000 plumbers have sufficient green skills to meet the growing demand for environmentally sustainable plumbing. To date, 3,000 Victorian plumbers have attended Green Plumber’s courses. This number will grow considerably as the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre rolls out its programs to the broader plumbing workforce. The centre will play a leading role delivering sustainability skills for the Victorian plumbing industry and will be critical for driving growth in the Victorian green plumbing sector and creating jobs.

The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre will provide plumbing training to practising plumbers with a focus on sustainability, energy saving, waste reduction and water conservation. The training centre’s facility is a five-star Green Star rated building that will trial and promote new technologies. It is a working example of innovative design and sustainable plumbing. The centre is helping people reduce their energy and water consumption around the home and playing a vital role in helping us combat climate change at the grassroots level.

Some of the training programs include providing recommendations and advice on effective plumbing solutions to improve energy usage and reducing the use of water in domestic and commercial properties, on the selection and installation of solar heated water systems, on the use of on-site natural wastewater treatment systems to improve environmental sustainability and on alternative sources of water available for urban use to reduce demand on the drinking water supply. Environmental plumbing inspections and inspection reports for domestic buildings are also provided.

Another service is determining pump systems suitable for suburban applications, planning the system pipe work and sizing the pump to meet client requirements. This unit applies specifically to simple systems used to pump rainwater and greywater in suburban areas. Plumbers have a huge role to play in making our environment cleaner. Over 70 per cent of all energy consumed in the home is related to work carried out by plumbers. In commercial buildings, the greenhouse gas emissions are principally due to cooling, lighting and heating, and over 60 per cent fall under the watch of the plumber. So industry will expect that the sector be able to provide the best advice and processes to comply with government targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The centre’s website points out that there is general consensus that buildings produce 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre offers a solution to deal with this issue swiftly and economically. I want to congratulate the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre on their fantastic work and look forward to working with them and the wider community to help the Wills electorate reduce its carbon footprint.

Another important example of a commercial building demonstrating water efficiency is the Australian Conservation Foundation’s headquarters, known as the 60L Green Building. The 60L Green Building provides the fundamentals of smart design, an open-plan layout, natural ventilation, lighting and energy efficiency, and the Australian Conservation Foundation has followed through with green furniture, fittings and materials for the office.

When it was built, the 60L building set a significant new benchmark for water efficiency in commercial buildings with an approach to water conservation that minimised the demand for water by providing water efficient fixtures and fittings, including waterless urinals and low-flush volume toilets; by the use of collected rainwater to replace 100 per cent of normal mains water consumption whenever possible; and by 100 per cent on-site treatment and reuse of greywater through basins and sinks and blackwater, sewage, streams to produce reclaimed water for flushing toilets and irrigating the roof garden and landscape features.

There are three basic subsystems which make up the 60L water system. Firstly, there is the potable water system—harvesting, collection transfer and sterilisation of water for use by tenants and building systems. Then there is the sewage treatment system involving biological breakdown, membrane filtration and clarification of waste water for use within the building and transport of treated waste to the city system. Finally, there is the reclamation system—reclaimed water, treated to appropriate standards, is used on 60L’s roof garden, in toilets and in the final part of the system there is a reed-bed water feature in the atrium which filters water before it returns to the city system.

In an average rainfall year, the only water that must be sourced from external, mains water is that required for testing the fire sprinkler system. 60L uses 90 per cent less mains water when compared to a traditional commercial building of similar size and function. The building relies principally on rainwater. This is collected from the roof, stored in two 10,000-litre tanks on the ground floor, filtered and then sterilised prior to use by tenants in taps and showers.

Three stages of microfiltration remove any particulate material and large organisms and an ultraviolet sterilisation unit kills any residual bacteria and other organisms. This treatment plant has automatic monitoring for conductivity and is subjected to routine monitoring and testing for microbial activity. UV sterilisation makes it possible to kill potentially hazardous organisms and bacteria without the need for chemicals such as chlorine. Ultraviolet light destroys the cell structure of pathogens making it impossible for them to reproduce and pose a risk to water users. UV systems have become widely accepted for drinking water sterilisation. More than 500 kilolitres of rainwater will be collected in an average rainfall year and despite lower than average rainfall over previous years 60L has been able to collect and use about 400 kilolitres every year.

Water is of course an incredibly important issue in Australia and I am very pleased that the ACF decided to place this system on show for tenants and visitors to 60L. Thus the two 10,000-litre storage tanks and ancillary pumping, filtration and water sterilisation equipment are clearly visible on the ground floor. Throughout the construction process, wherever possible, it was decided to make water use a prominent aspect of the built environment. Pipes that collect and transport water are clearly marked. Some collection pipes have transparent panels that enable tenants to see the flow of water into the rain tanks when it rains.

I am told that the siphonic rainwater collection system is a highly efficient way of moving water into the storage tanks via gravity and siphoning; it minimises downpipe sizing and saves on materials usage. The rooftop garden is designed to be watered with reclaimed water from the on-site waste water and sewage treatment plant.

As the ACF has outlined, from a construction viewpoint, it was important to have a completely integrated design from the outset, so that synergies in saving, both during construction and afterwards, could be realised. This is basic sustainability theory—plan, design, specify and build with the avowed intent of using less resources at all stages.

Water is a precious asset which we should never take for granted. It has been heartening to see water storages in Victoria increase over what has been a bumper period for rainfall. However, we should not allow this to diminish our awareness of the need for continued water conservation vigilance. I commend this bill for its intention to deliver a heightened awareness for consumers.