Today the Tweed Shire Council is writing to NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey to request that ‘all licences for bulk water extraction for commercial water bottling be temporarily suspended’ in the Tweed Shire.
The Mayoral minute was passed at last weeks Tweed Council meeting (Thursday, 5 December) on the casting vote of the Tweed Mayor Katie Milne. Councillors K Milne, C Cherry, and R Cooper voted in favour, councillors W Polglase, Cr J Owen, and Cr P Allsop voted against and Councillor R Byrnes was absent.
Under state control
The water extraction licenses for commercial water bottling facilities and bulk water extraction are approved by the state government not by local councils. In extreme drought conditions the water minister can temporarily suspend the extraction licences.
Council’s motion highlight’s that there are many waterways ‘with low/no flows in the Tweed Shire’.
According to president of the Northern Rivers Guardians Scott Sledge there are also many farmers and agricultural producers who have said that their bores are running dry.
Bottled water a small percentage
Responding to Echonetdaily Melinda Pavey’s office pointed to the NSW Northern Rivers Bottled Water Final Report that was released on in October this year that states:
‘The Review identified seven operators in the Northern Rivers region with allocations of 240.5 ML/year who are actively extracting for water bottling purposes. This represents 0.55 per cent of water licences and basic landholder rights, and 0.008 per cent of the estimated total annual aquifer recharge in the four relevant groundwater sources.’
While they identify that bottled water extraction is a small percentage of water use in the region the report also highlights that this is only based on the available information and that there is a ‘lack of monitoring detecting these impacts’.
Highly complex water systems
Associate professor Peter Coombes who was recently appointed as chair of engineering and associate professor in water resources engineering at Southern Cross University emphasised the complexity of understanding and assessing the water resources in this region.
‘It is difficult if not impossible to asses the the water capacity in these very complex and highly variable geological structures under the ground,’ said associate professor Coombes.
He pointed out that the Northern Rivers region has a range of different aquifers from Lennox Head to Alstonville to Tweed.
‘There are shallow aquifers that respond immediately to rainfall and deeper aquifers in the soil that have much older water in them and take far longer to respond. When you use artesian basin water you may not be getting it back for a millennium or two’
Local assessment needed
He pointed out that the bottled water report was a regional assessment and that while they did the best they could with the available information ‘you need to have a closer look at what is happening’.
‘That is just some regional average assessment. What we need to be looking for is if creeks are drying up down stream from the extraction sites. Water extraction may make quite a difference in a creek below an extraction site.’
He identified the recent report of the Tamborine Mountain state school that has run out of water and the fact that their bore has run dry. Parents have been told to consider keeping their children at home according to The Guardian report while the education department is now bringing water into the school, including Mount Tamborine bottled water.
Commercial water mining in the Mount Tamborine area extracts around 130m litres of water a year The Guardian article states. One local resident said the schools bore had never run dry before.
‘Your local streams and ground water are linked,’ said associate professor Coombes.
With a range of vested interests, lobbying, the imbalance of power between parties and the multiple jurisdictions that contribute to the management of water, from local councils to state and federal government, managing water for the best interests of all Australians including residents and farmers as well as fauna and flora is challenging.
‘We are going to be increasingly challenged around water and we need to keep changing our approach,’ said associate professor Coombes.
‘We’ve done quite well so far in relation to water management in Australia using sophisticated, successful techniques that have been and world recognised. But now we need to move forward into a new phase because the current processes aren’t working. We need to meet the current and future changes of the water challenge in Australia.’