A hoard of dinosaur bones has been discovered at the site of a planned desalination plant meant to deliver Australia's second biggest city from drought, forcing a rethink of the $2.7 billion project.
The fossilized bones, estimated to be 115 million years old and belonging to dinosaurs and ancient marine reptiles, were found on a windswept beach in front of the planned project at Powlett River, southeast of Melbourne.
"It's like boring through the tombs of Egypt's ancient emperors or drilling through the terracotta warriors in China after they were discovered," local opposition lawmaker Ken Smith told Reuters, demanding a study before the project proceeds.
"Those ancient sites were important to the world and so is this here," he said.
Much of Australia has been in drought for more than a decade, with international climate scientists warning the dry could be the harbinger of global warming.
Melbourne plans to build one of the world's biggest water desalination plants to drought-proof the city, with construction to begin next year and up to 150 billion litres of drinking water a year flowing by 2011, rivaling a plant in Israel.
The plant will extract salt from sea water through reverse osmosis, discharging salt waste into the ocean and pumping the purified water 85 km (55 miles) to Melbourne.
Monash University researcher and dinosaur expert Lesley Cool was quoted by local papers as saying there was evidence of dinosaurs, teeth, bones and vertebrae. "The rocks were deposited at a time when Australia was in the polar circle," she said.
Other remains on the site included the teeth of pleisosaurs, a small and long-necked reptile which lived in rivers, and the two-legged, plant-eating dinosaur qantassaurus.
Victoria state Water Minister Tim Holding is yet to commit to an environmental impact report on the site of the bones.
"We will take all environmental and cultural issues into consideration when determining the final specifications," a spokesman said.