Bipartisan furious agreement has erupted over the issue of water mining in the region, with local Nationals and Labor north coast candidates for the March 2019 election all calling for a full independent inquiry into water extraction on the northern rivers to be carried out before any new proposal is considered.
The adoption of environmental concerns by the major parties comes as Tweed Shire residents continue to be active in the face of expanding bottling operations there, while Alstonville residents are reacting against a similar proposal.
Yet NSW Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith told Echonetdaily, ‘We don’t need an inquiry – it’s common sense and the precautionary principle embedded in our planning laws enables us to ban it if the risk outweighs the good. I’m taking to [Greens] party room next week [the proposal] that we completely ban water mining in NSW.
‘How can millions of dollars a year, for one or two developers, outweigh the protection of our aquifers and fresh water springs so close to the coast and on a warming planet?’
Nationals MLC Ben Franklin and 2019 Ballina state candidate said in a statement that he ‘met with a range of individuals on the Alstonville plateau who were deeply concerned over the possible impact of a new proposal to extract 100 megalitres of water per year from the Alstonville aquifer.’
He said, ‘I share those concerns and today I am calling on the state government to conduct a full and independent inquiry into the sustainability of the bottled spring water industry. This inquiry should be established immediately and conducted by the chief scientist and engineer.’
He added, ‘Nothing is more important than preserving the long-term viability of our water supply so I don’t believe any further development by this industry should be able to be considered in our community until we know the facts.’
Meanwhile north coast NSW Country Labor candidates say that Northern Rivers Local Government Councils should suspend the granting of future Development Applications (DAs) for commercial water extraction enterprises, ‘and where applicable remove special clauses in the Local Environment Plan (LEP) until a full review of the science of water extraction is held.’
‘Labor in government will hold a parliamentary review into the licencing of commercial water extraction to ensure such activity is sustainable and to address community concerns.
Council’s primary responsibility is to deal with truck movements, but the water extraction licensing system is run by Water NSW. Water NSW has been gutted under the Liberal – Nationals and compliance actions are nearly non-existent under the Berejiklian- Barilaro Liberal-National government.
‘That’s why we are calling on local councils to hit the pause button on any future development applications involving water extraction for bottling, or where applicable, remove the clause from their LEP.
We urge the Berejiklian – Barilaro NSW Government to commit to a comprehensive review of the granting of water extraction licences and specifically the impact on our water table and aquifer.’
Greens candidate for Lismore Sue Higginson said in a statement, ‘While I think any scientific inquiry into better understanding our ground water resources is good, in this circumstance it is likely to prove to be a waste of time and money. There is a plethora of other more important scientific matters the Chief Scientist could be focussed on. It is not rocket or water science to know that extracting millions of litres of water from our complex ground water systems to put into plastic bottles, which does not create new jobs in the region, is not good business. We also know that it takes 6 litres of mined water to make one litre of bottled water.’
Meanwhile in the agenda from Byron Shire Council’s Water, Waste and Sewer Advisory Committee Meeting held on November 1, staff admit that neither Council nor [water utility] Rous County Council are ‘investigating any water mining activities per-se (or their impacts on the Future Water Strategy)…’
Staff referred to Rous County Council who, ‘could provide a report on its groundwater investigations completed to date.’
Staff wrote, ‘Rous is not aware of any bottled water plants in the investigation areas currently being considered.
It was in response to Cr Michael Lyon’s requested for a report on ‘the research done, being done, proposed to be done on the effects of water mining in Byron and surrounding shires on groundwater resources and their quality and the downstream effects of the practice on the environment, farming etc.’