A plan to extract millions of litres of water from the two large aquifers below the Alstonville Plateau began the campaign to remove water mining from the Ballina Shire Council’s local environment plan (LEP). And at yesterdays council meeting it finally met with success.
‘I commend the Save Alstonville Aquifer group, run by a collective of farmers on the Alstonville Plateau, who organised an amazing campaign in response to a development plan to extract millions and millions of water from the plateau to sell to soft drink companies overseas. Their efforts with the broader community resulted in the development application (DA) being withdrawn,’ said local MP Tamara Smith told Echonetdaily.
According to Ballina Mayor David Wright the council received over 1,000 submissions relating to the removal of water extraction for commercial purposes such as bottling.
Mr Wright pointed out that ‘during the last drought farmers that have bores reported that they began to run dry. There are so many licences that have been granted that haven’t been checked on.’
During the meeting councillors ‘unanimously adopted changes to the Shire’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) to modify the definition of rural industry to exclude commercial water harvesting. This has led to what is effectively a ban on water mining across Ballina Shire,’ said councillor Keith Williams.
More action required
However, the Save Alstonville Aquifer group have pointed out that the security of the Alstonville aquifer still needs further actions to ensure it is secure into the future.
They say the bordering shires, like Lismore, also need to change their LEPs to ensure that water bottling operations can’t take place there.
‘Some [bordering shires] overlap the Alstonville Aquifer, hence a water bottling operation could still commence in Lismore Shire and contribute to losses from the aquifer,’ Bryan Douglas told Echonetdaily on behalf of the Save Alstonville Aquifer group.
Mr Douglas also highlighted the importance of the NSW Department of Planning, Water and Environment improving enforcement measures ‘as illegal extraction from the aquifer is occurring and large users are exceeding their limits.’
Not enough information
The report by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer on groundwater resources in the Northern Rivers recognised that there is a lack of understanding of the aquifers across the Northern Rivers region. This includes the hydrogeology around Alstonville and the impact of bore water extraction. It clearly acknowledged that the low level of monitoring meant that it was unable to determine what the impact of large scale extraction would be on the various aquifers in the region. None-the-less it said that commercial water extraction would not have a major impact.
‘It was very disappointing that the Parliamentary inquiry into water mining conducted by the NSW Chief Scientist did not determine any potential adverse impacts from large extractions of aquifer water on farmland,’ said Ms Smith.
‘Thankfully, Ballina Shire Council and Byron Shire Council have led the way in banning water mining and prohibiting it in local planning instruments. This is a model that should be adopted across every local government area in the state.
‘On a warming planet, with long droughts and long and intense bushfire seasons, the idea that you would allow farmers to extract precious ground water from food growing land to export overseas for a quick buck is insane. Add to that the fact that those aquifers are directly linked to water catchments for drinking in rural and regional communities – the lack of application of the precautionary principle is staggering.’