Ovens & Murray Advertiser

Water fury

- By CORAL COOKSLEY

WATER Minister Lisa Neville has been asked to temporaril­y stop a commercial company from extracting groundwate­r during the current extremely dry period and current bushfire crisis.

Ed Tyrie, chair of the Stanley Rural Community Incorporat­ed (SRCI) – an organisati­on representi­ng community interests – made the request, via letter, earlier this month.

He said community members found it “untenable” that water mining and extraction for bottling by Stanley Pastoral Pty Ltd at Cue Springs, Stanley, was allowed to continue “business as usual” when local rainfall was down 30 per cent last year, and there was a bushfire crisis ongoing.

Mr Tyrie requested the Minister also undertake an urgent inquiry into Goulburn Murray Water’s management of surface and groundwate­r.

In a statement to the Ovens and

Murray Advertiser yesterday, Minister Neville said she has “asked the Department and all water corporatio­ns to prioritise community water use and deal with any water availabili­ty issues, particular­ly for firefighti­ng purposes”.

At the time of going to press it was unclear if this will have any direct impact on the local water extraction.

A government source indicated that despite low rainfall in the local area, groundwate­r monitoring in the region is indicating that groundwate­r extraction is not having an impact on aquifer wide groundwate­r levels.

Stanley Pastoral, owned by the Carey family, which controls Black Mount Spring Water - one of Victoria’s leading water wholesaler­s - was in 2016 licensed by Goulburn-Murray Water to take up to 19 megalitres every year from a bore at its 16-hectare farm at Cue Springs on the Stanley plateau.

The water is trucked to the Asahai plant in Albury for bottling.

The move has been strongly opposed by a number of members from the local small farming and orchard community since 2013 with the SRCI taking unsuccessf­ul legal action through the VCAT and Supreme Court.

The SRCI representi­ng tiny village's community without a municipal water supply has continuall­y objected to the granting of the licence as it relies on surface and ground water for agricultur­e as well as home needs.

Mr Tyrie said although bottled water was needed for emergencie­s, water did not need to be supplied from rural areas dependant on the water for its own use.

“CSIRO statistics indicate that a 10 per cent drop in rainfall related to a 30 per cent loss in recharge and Stanley had 30 per cent less rainfall than its average in 2019 – a continuing forecast with less rain," he said.

“The water table is dropping and there is no scientific evidence to say that's not the case."

Mr Tyrie said Stanley property owners had recently been restricted from taking water for irrigation purposes from local creeks due to the extremely dry conditions experience­d over 2019.

Stanley resident Michael Nuck said water in and around the village had become critical with the health of a number of creeks.

Unable to irrigate from Back Creek which hasn't flowed at his property since July last year, a concerned Mr Nuck notified regulator Goulburn Murray Water at the time suggesting surface water irrigation be reviewed.

“Four months later they advised to cease surface water irrigation to assure downstream flow,” he said.

“We continue to monitor our own domestic bores and hope they don’t run dry.”

Mr Tyrie said Stanley Pastoral and the State Government have continuall­y stated that aquifers were not connected to surface water with no affect on water extraction.

Mr Nuck along with other members of the Stanley community dispute the claim that there is no relationsh­ip between stream flow and aquifer wellbeing.

Mr Tyrie said Stanley Pastoral's expert hydrologis­t had agreed with scientific evidence presented to the VCAT tribunal by SCRI's researcher – Federation University's Professor Peter Dahlhaus - that surface and ground water were connected with hydrologic­al and geological reports that proved the case.

Mr Nuck said after a recent local media article expressing community concerns, Stanley Pastoral offered access to its bore to the local CFA brigade should water be needed for emergency fire fighting.

Stanley Pastoral's Tim Carey said there was no evidence with negative effects on groundwate­r or surface water in the area.

“Experts and licencing authoritie­s are comfortabl­e with its sustainabi­lity which is monitored by The Department of Environmen­t, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) through the State Observatio­n Bore Network,” he said.

“It has never been more important than now that we maintain our supply into the bottling plant to enable supply of vital bottled water to those in need.”

Mr Carey said to place restrictio­ns on operations would be counterpro­ductive to our enormous efforts being undertaken to support those in bushfire affected regions.

He said his compnay had advised local councils that it is prepared to donate its services to those in fire affected areas who are in need with water supplied from Cue Springs and other local sources.

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