Exaggerated population growth figures for the Lismore region could mislead its future water strategy and increase high infrastructure costs, a Rous Water councillor has claimed.
They add to concerns raised recently by another Rous Water councillor over groundwater contamination from the coal seam gas (CSG) mining industry.
Lismore City and Rous Water councillor Vanessa Ekins told Echonetdaily that the water-supply body’s growth model assumes a one per cent growth of the population each year.
‘At the moment growth is 0.4 per cent per annum, so they are assuming growth will double,’ Cr Ekins said.
‘This means we need to provide a load of infrastructure to meet this growth level which does not look like it will happen,’ Cr Ekins said during debate last week on the council’s draft plans for water supply and wastewater, which have now gone on public exhibition
Cr Ekins said she was concerned about the projected water and sewerage infrastructure costs.
‘Water and sewer rates will increase on average to $2,000 per year; this is on top of household rates,’ she said.
The Greens councillor also raised concerns about subsidising infrastructure costs for future development during debate, during which the council adopted the development control plan (DCP) and s94 (developer contributions) plans for the North Lismore Plateau subdivision.
‘The servicing plan on public exhibition says that we will be subsidising future developments, paying one million per year for the next 30 years to subsidise new developments,’ Cr Ekins said.
‘This is a huge chunk of community money.’
Cr Ekins said the community will be sponsoring development by contributing $20 million of infrastructure for water and sewer for the North Lismore Plateau development.
‘I have concerns that if the development doesn’t go ahead as fast as the developer predicts, Council will be subsidising this while money could be going somewhere else,’ she said.
Pro-development Cr Neil Marks said the debts incurred for the North Lismore Plateau development were costs brought forward for work that had to be completed eventually.
‘Isn’t this what we have to do? Ratepayers have previously paid for infrastructure that we are benefiting from now,’ Cr Marks said.
Cr Ekins pointed out other developments in the Lismore local government area (LGA) which were expected to sell quickly and did not.
‘There have been a few; we had this problem at Rous with the Perradenya development,’ Cr Ekins said.
‘We had to put in several million dollars to actually build the infrastructure, which is paid back when the developers sell the lots.
‘At the moment, we have sold one lot per year,’ she said.
But according to Cr Ekins, Rous has still not met its conditions on that development for wildlife corridors or weed management, and bicycle paths and a reclamation plant had also not been built yet.
‘Rous are not putting money away to cover these expenses. We are only up to release number five out of 13 releases,’ said Cr Ekins.
She said Rous Water would now have to bear these costs out of its infrastructure renewal account for ageing infrastructure.
‘We are deferring projects all the time at Rous because we can’t afford them yet we are putting millions of dollars into these developments that take forever to sell, if they sell at all,’ Cr Ekins said.
‘I have actually said we need a workshop to look at whether we do the Perradenya development at all.’
Cr Ekins said there was a general assumption that future development is good for the economy.
‘I am wondering if people realise how much money individuals are putting into future developments, which compromises the services that people are receiving now,’ she said.
Cr Ekins said groundwater extraction is a better approach then creating additional infrastructure.
‘At least with groundwater we only draw on it if we need it,’ she said.
Cr Ekins said we need to look at what household usage of water is.
‘We are fighting for groundwater security so we can flush our toilets with it!’ she said.