Campaign gains support
More than 120,000 people sign petition to pressure international corporation
THE small Indigo community of Stanley has attracted worldwide attention to a campaign to stop beverage company AsahiSchweppes from bottling local groundwater.
More than 120,000 people in the past three weeks have signed an international on-line petition in an attempt to pressure the Japanese-owned corporation into ditching arrangements through which it buys water pumped from the Upper Ovens aquifer south of the village.
The campaign, attracting more than 1000 new signatories every day, has been managed by SumofUs, a not-for-profit organisation which has a global community of members who want to protect the environment from exploitation by powerful business interests.
SumofUs has previously supported high profile community water battles in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.
Senior campaigner Nick Haines said the petition urged Asahi-Schweppes to respect Stanley’s farmers and food producers and immediately stop sourcing water from the area.
“Without having conducted full hydrological surveys, no one knows exactly how much water lies beneath the Stanley Plateau,” he said.
“If it dries up, it’ll be the fruit and nut farmers of Stanley who will suffer and not Asahi who will simply pack up and send water trucks elsewhere.”
Groundwater wholesaler Stanley Pastoral obtained a commercial licence from Northern Victorian water regulator Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) in 2016, to pump groundwater from its 16-hectare Cue Springs property.
That move has been strongly opposed by the local small farming and orchard community since 2013.
A two-year legal dispute followed GMW’s decision, in which community advocacy organisation Stanley Rural Community Incorporated joined Indigo Shire Council in defending the council’s decision to refuse Stanley Pastoral’s planning application to build a water storage and trucking infrastructure at the site of the groundwater bore.
Stanley Pastoral sought jurisdiction from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which overturned Indigo Council’s refusal to issue the planning permit, and allowed development to proceed.
SRCI then contested the VCAT ruling in the Supreme Court but was unsuccessful in appealing the court’s decision to uphold the ruling.
The court ordered SRCI to pay $90,000 towards Stanley Pastoral’s legal costs.
SRCI chairman Ed Tyrie said the court decision had been accepted but it was about social justice.
“It’s the moral issue of taking a community’s water supply,” he said.
With no main water supply, Mr Tyrie said Stanley’s community depended on ground and surface water.
“Dams, creeks, rainwater tanks and bores are its lifeline,” he said.
He said every tanker that left Stanley for Asahi-Schweppes’ South Albury bottling plant carried 38,000 litres of bore water that had to be filtered three or four times for human consumption.
Mr Tyrie said that the volume equated to 50,000 plastic 375ml water bottles.
With rainfall down by 40 per cent across Eastern Australia, severe drought conditions in many parts of the nation, and high summer temperatures forecast, he said water sources would be under pressure if no adequate rain fell on the plateau during spring and summer.
“Farmers and orchardists need a secure water source and groundwater is the last source of a vital resource needed for the future, as well,” he said.
Mr Tyrie said the SumofUs campaign had shown that thousands of people cared about water as a global concern and that a government enquiry into groundwater management was needed.
“Asahi is profiting from the water and has the power to do the right thing,” he said.
Indigo Shire mayor Cr Jenny O’Connor said water was the most precious resource and diverting it away from food production, in a region reliant on agriculture, was “unconscionable”.
“Indigo Shire will continue to challenge this irresponsible use of water,” she said.
Other communities affected by water mining include nearby Nug Nug, Musk in Central Victoria, Daylesford, the Tweed Valley in NSW and Tamborine Mountain in Queensland.
Mr Tyrie said a government inquiry should examine changes to Victoria’s water legislation.
The use of plastic for bottled water was also a competing social issue.
Mr Tyrie said plastic bottles ended up in landfill, littering the environment, as shown in the television documentary ‘The War on Waste’.
“I’m not against plastic bottles for emergency use - they have a place - but why do we need to drink bottled water when we’re in a country that has access to clean drinking water?” he said.
Stanley Pastoral director Tim Carey said independent hydrogeological studies undertaken at the Stanley Cue Springs’ property concluded that operations had no adverse impact on water access for Stanley’s residents and farmers.
He said this had been verified by GMW independent auditors, VCAT and the Supreme Court.
“The SRCI has provided no evidence that Stanley’s underground water is adversely affected by the licenced water extraction,” he said.
Mr Carey also said the water source has been responsibly managed by the company with compliance to licence conditions.
“Long term sustainability of the source and surrounding water users is vitally important to our business,” he said
Mr Carey advocated that the SumofUs petition was based on misinformation where petition signatories would not have read operational sustainability reports.
Also a director of the Australian Beverages Council with the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) under its wing, Mr Carey said the industry used 100 per cent recyclable plastic bottles.
“Bottled water provides choice and convenience for consumers,” he said.