The following is the speech given by Cr Monica Morse at the February 17 meeting of Bathurst Council during a discussion about the proposal by the Western Australian Regis gold mining company to divert Bathurst’s treated effluent water to a proposed gold mine in Blayney. The Council voted to defer its decision until the company had returned with an environmental impact statement relating to the proposal.
The recommendation from Council staff asks for further reports, further information and further advice about the sale of Council’s treated effluent.
I have listened to Councillors talking about what we don’t know about this sale. Over the last month I have read, consulted, talked, visited, and argued. So now what I would like to do now is talk about is what we do know. And there is far more that we do know than what we don’t know.
We know that the River Macquarie was the single most important factor in the establishing Bathurst as the first inland settlement in Australia. It was no coincidence that Governor Macquarie set up his camp and his flag staff where he did. He and all the other early explorers knew the importance of a water source.
We know that in the early days of Bathurst water was taken out of the river in buckets as well as from wells, which were plentiful because of the high water table in the areas near the river.
Ironically we know that Bathurst’s development was because of the gold rush, but in those days the gold was found in or near the rivers.
We know that in the early 1900s the major developments in Bathurst were because of the construction of a town water supply and a sewage treatment plant. This led to the release into the river of the effluent from the newly built sewage treatment plant in 1915. So since 1915 the river Macquarie has benefited from the recycled water being put back into the river. And it was these water services that started the growth of industry and of the city.
So we know that for 100 years the recycled water from Bathurst has been contributing to the Burrendong dam and the Macquarie Marshes and on down to the Murray Darling. If we don’t put our water back into the river we are decreasing the flow of the Macquarie by 10ML a day which is exactly the same as taking water out of the river. We should ask ourselves do we have the right to remove that water from the river? Is it ours to sell to the detriment of all Australian downstream users? Surely we have a national responsibility for the river.
I was told recently that the present day water sharing agreement was worked out on the basis of recycled water from Bathurst being put back in the river though I haven’t been able to check that. If anyone wants to know about water sharing plans, they can Google Water Sharing Plans, but basically the purpose of a water sharing plan is to:
protect the fundamental environmental health of the water source
ensure the water source is sustainable in the long-term
provide water users with a clear picture of when and how water will be available for extraction.
“Under the plans, water must be reserved for the health of a river or aquifer and the ecosystems that depend on it, such as wetlands and floodplains. The share of water reserved for the environment is intended to sustain the living components of rivers or groundwater such as plants, fish, other aquatic animals and birds.
The website www.water.nsw. Makes very interesting reading.
There are lots of facts and figures about the current Bathurst water supply. We know that in the last couple of weeks our city of more than 35,000 people, industry, hotels, schools and hospitals, the amount of water used has been approx. 20ML a day. That water is used for showers, food processing, and putting on gardens, with the result that only about half of that is available to be put back in the river. Say 10ML a day, in round figures.
We know and have been told by experts in the field that the Macquarie River has been degraded by the continual demands put on it by the city and its continued growth. However, the river was and is the most significant factor in one of Bathurst’s major industries – agriculture. According to Council’s own statistics In 2010/11, the total value of agricultural output in Bathurst Regional Council area was $56m, which increased from $47m in 2005/06. Livestock is one of the major components, with vegetables accounting for over $30million in the industry. With the decrease in land available for vegetable production in the Sydney area, Bathurst is now the largest area for growing crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale. Edgells began its operations back in 1926 is still a major employer in Bathurst today.
We know that Regis wants between 8 and 10ML a day. That means that the mine wants the amount of water that is half the amount of water that our whole city uses in a day. Half the amount.
We know that the review by GHD of the first report on the proposed sale of water by SKM found many shortcomings – words like ‘not consistent’, ‘could benefit with’; ‘would be beneficial’, ‘there are concerns’. Experts have advised that “impacts on the environment must be comprehensively addressed”. I found the most important submission against the proposed sale of the water was by Dr David Goldney who surely must be the most highly regarded academic, practical environmentalist and adviser to a wide range of industry and mining groups. He was also a Commissioner in the Land and Environment Court.
I really do know that if Dr Goldney advises against the sale, then we should listen.
What we didn’t know before and what we clearly know now, is that the community really cares about the river – despite what Regis thinks. In their submission they said that there would be “relatively isolated yet passionate negative feedback”. This “relatively isolated” group has established a Facebook page with nearly 1000 members: and a Change.org petition of nearly 2000 people. Add to this the number of people who have made personal representations to Councillors and to Council. These people are not the loony left, or hippy greenies. They include professionals, environmental organisations, alliances of councils, historians, as well as artists and craftspeople, who have channelled their talents into making videos, crafting a river, developing a logo and performing a song. People who have never made a public comment or have taken part in a protest are now taking up the cause. One of many emails I receive is typical and said: This is the first time I have decided to become involved in a council issue.
It has been said that opposition to the proposal is based on emotion and sentiment. This Council is committed to preserving Bathurst’s heritage and last year spent considerable funds and energy on celebrating 200 years of Bathurst’s history. Heritage is an emotional and sentimental attachment to the past, so we should not knock emotion and sentiment.
And we know that the Wiradjuri are against any sale of water from their beloved river. This Council which has developed such a good relationship with the Wiradjuri people should not now disregard their opinion when they don’t happen to like it.
We don’t know what the Cease to Transfer level will be but I have been told by two officers of the water section Department of Primary Industry that we will not know that figure until right at the end of the processes undertaken by the State Government. That was the case with the Orange pipeline and I was advised that this will be the case for the Regis proposal.
We know that Regis has been talking to private clubs such as the Golf Club. Whether they have offered to sell/give away some of the water from the pipeline which they plan to pass near the Golf Club – I don’t know if that is exactly true, but even a suggestion that it could happen is of great concern.
There are some sceptics, but the majority of people know that climate change is real and is happening fast. 2015 was the hottest year on record
So, rivers are increasingly important and, in the scheme of things, the Macquarie is not a big river – in fact it is a rather small river and the Chifley Dam, much as we value it, is not a big dam.
Ben Chifley Dam 30,800ML
Carcoar Dam 36,400ML
Oberon Dam 45,420ML
Burrendong Dam: 1,188,000ML
All the more reason to conserve the resources we have. The inflow from the Campbells River is not likely to increase over the next few years and it is highly unlikely that there will be an upgrade to the Ben Chifley Dam within the next 10 to 20 years.
In 2011, six of the current Councillors, voted to adopt the Bathurst Climate Change and Water Security Plan. I suggest they revisit that plan.
I’ll tell you what I don’t know – is how much Regis will pay for the water. But I don’t need to know that because no matter how much they pay, it will not compensate for the loss of water for the Bathurst Region, for the downstream users of the Macquarie throughout the 626 Kms of the river in NSW and the major rivers into which it now flows, including the Murray Darling.
So I am going to vote NO to the motion that more information is needed before a decision is made to sell our river water to Regis. We know enough now. No matter how much more information is provided, Council should not sell the water. I will vote NO to selling the water and I believe the community of Bathurst says NO.