Pressure on water
Tri-council forum to tackle North East communities’ concerns
ALPINE, Indigo and Towong communities are being invited to participate in a Beechworth forum to explore cross-boundary concerns about the impact in the three North East shires of groundwater extraction for bottled water production.
The councils are already collaborating to develop a shared approach to planning scheme changes to define the ways in which the cost of water industry impacts on community infrastructure – such as local roads – might be managed or recouped.
Indigo has now invited Alpine and Towong councils and communities to take part in a forum on November 23 to be addressed by Huw Kingston, a highly-regarded Australian entrepreneur and adventurer who instigated a successful campaign in 2009 to make his New South Wales town of Bundanoon the world’s first bottled water-free community.
“There are many of us – in councils and communities – in this region who are concerned about the impact of the bottled water industry on agriculture, community infrastructure and our environment,” Indigo mayor Jenny O’Connor said on Tuesday.
“Huw’s willing to come and talk with our communities about what they’ve done in Bundanoon and the broader issues around water security.
“He’s very inspiring and interesting and has done extensive work to build awareness of this issue and its effects on all of us.”
Indigo and Alpine communities have become increasingly concerned in recent years about the effects and community costs of groundwater extraction.
The small farming community of Stanley, where Stanley Pastoral has been licensed to take groundwater for bottling from a farming property between Stanley and Myrtleford, has carried arguments for protection of its agricultural and environmental heritage as far as the Appeal Court.
The appeal is to be heard in the Victorian Supreme Court in Melbourne on October 26.
“Groundwater extraction for the production of bottled water can have huge financial costs for communities and ratepayers,” Cr O’Connor said.
“There is the very serious issue of water’s loss to agriculture in communities such as Stanley and Buffalo River (in Alpine shire).
“It is a big business that takes a resource for its own gain that is otherwise freely available from taps, which creates very few jobs in any of the communities in which extraction takes place, and adds to waste.”
Cr O’Connor said the three councils were also concerned that each municipality was inadequately protected by planning schemes since the advent of groundwater extraction for bottled water production.
“We’re looking at ways in which we might be able to amend our planning schemes so that we have the right framework to manage the very real impact on our community assets from water extraction and such things as water’s transport on our road networks,” she said.
“If these trucks are going to continue to be on our roads then what are the things we need to do to protect our infrastructure and ensure that the community cost is taken into account?
“There’s nothing to allow us to do that now.”
Cr O’Connor said the tri-council talks were focussed on three areas of Victorian legislation – water, planning, and environment.
“Once we’ve decided what can be done we’ll put forward our recommendations and ask the Planning Minister to consider them,” she said. Ed Tyrie, the chairman of Stanley Rural Community Incorporated – the small community’s advocacy organisation which has battled against groundwater extraction for bottled water production for the past four years – has welcomed the tri-council communities’ forum. “I think Huw Kingston, through his experience and knowledge of environmental and bottled water industry issues, and his leadership of the Bundanoon community’s campaign against bottled water, will be a great motivator,” Mr Tyrie said. “I would encourage as many people as possible to attend this forum to hear him talk. “I think it’s a very encouraging move by the councils representing those communities affected by groundwater extraction to step ahead on this issue.” Mr Tyrie said more could be done across municipal boundaries to protect North East Victoria’s water resources. “This region is, after all, the major source of water for the Murray Darling Basin,” he said. “We must protect this environment for future generations and think strategically outside man-made boundaries. “It’s good to see the three councils of Alpine, Indigo and Towong working together on this issue. “Huw’s visit may encourage others to follow suit.” Cr O’Connor said the forum venue and time would be advised once the plans were finalised.
VOCAL: Stanley residents, particularly on Stanley-Myrtleford Road which is used by Black Mount Spring water trucks carrying groundwater to Albury for bottling, have long maintained a roadside campaign against the industry.