Pres­sure on wa­ter

Tri-coun­cil fo­rum to tackle North East com­mu­ni­ties’ con­cerns

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMIE KRONBORG jkro­n­borg@ne­me­

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.

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