Wednesday 15 April 2009

Today's water decision of enormous importance

A report that will be presented this morning to Council on the overall water supply for Cairns, is probably the biggest decision any Council will ever has to make.

Council's water chiefs are recommending that they adopt the assessment outcomes, and proceed with the cheapest option. This is to develop Stage 1 of the Mulgrave River Aquifer, with a view to then developing Stage 2 of the aquifer, if environmental impacts are confirmed to be acceptable and manageable.

It is a recommendation, that is at odds with chair of the Water and Waste committee, Councillor Paul Gregory.

The recommendation, endorsed by Cairns Water chief, Bruce Gardiner, goes on to say that in the event Mulgrave River Aquifer Stage 2 is not environmentally sustainable, or approvals not being secured based on the operational performance of Mulgrave River Aquifer Stage 1, "undertake actions to develop the Barron River Water Supply Scheme as a subsequent augmentation (Option 2).

Councillor Gregory wants this option to be the first one Council should proceed with. It's an awkward situation, as he is not only the chair of the Water committee, but also a local land-owner and farmer in the Mulgrave area.

"Whilst I'm not opposed to drawing additional water supply from Mulgrave, it's something that we don't know the long-term impact of," Cr Gregory says.

The subject is hotly-debated amongst Gregory's constituents. local cane growers, who already utilise a large amount of bore water in the southern region, are strongly opposed to taking additional water. However, some reports indicate, the reserves are substantial and environmentally sustainable.

Cr Gregory says there are too many questions still about accessing the expected massive water reservoirs in Mulgrave.

Mayor Val Schier is a supporter of the Mulgrave Aquifer option. "The science is strong and compelling," she told CairnsBlog.

Water demand in the Cairns region is expected to double over the next 25 years.

Ironically, Cairns water usage has decreased over the last three successive years, from 528 in 2006, to 447 liters per capita, per day.

Costs of pumping water from Mulgrave; the expected population growth in the South of Cairns; and the cleansing and treating of any water from the Barron, are considered by many Councillors as the main reason to adopt the Mulgrave Aquifer option and the preferred first option. Testing has also never occurred for chemicals and pesticides from agriculture production on the Atherton Tablelands into the Barron long river system.

Mulgrave River - Unacceptable environmental impacts, as previously assessed by the Wet Tropics Management Authority and the Commonwealth Government.
Recycled Water - Expected to have very high economic costs to implement high quality effluent as a potable water source. Additionally, this option is expected to present high social and cultural costs related to community concerns over using recycled water based on other experiences in Queensland such as Toowoomba.
Freshwater Creek - Expected to have a high economic cost (low return) and high environmental/social costs. This option also relies on the performance of Copperlode Falls Dam and does not improve the diversification of sources supplying Cairns.

Approval has to be sought for any option from the EPA.

This decision was deferred a month ago, so Councillors could further study the options presented. The infrastructure costs are a minimum of $161 million.

Let's hope that they have done their homework to carefully plan this vital infrastructure, with serious consideration for any environmental impact, to support our growing community.

1 comment:

Mulgrave Landcare said...

Mulgrave Landcare have a vital interest in the Mulgrave Aquifer issues that came to the fore earlier this month. We have been involved in serious review of the document used by Cairns Water to justify its recommendations that the Mulgrave Aquifer can be utilized with negligible environmental impact. Our detailed review of the draft document, the "Mulgrave River Aquifer Feasibility Study -Public Environment Report" (the only one available to the public and still the subject of a mandatory Federal process under the EPBC Act), backed up by independent scientific advice, is that the quality of that report is so poor that few of the conclusions and recommendations made by it can be accepted. We have particular concerns for Behana Creek. A predicted 0.5m drawdown caused by aquifer harvesting, could possible see this very high biodiversity stream run dry for the first time in living history. Though we have sent a detailed submission to Council & been allowed a meagre 15 minute opportunity to state our case re: the 300+ page report, council have not sought discussion with us, or anyone else not aligned with CRC, to gain a balanced view. Instead they have a cloistered feedback loop where the Council asks questions of itself and a paid consultant on the merits of work undertaken by itself and that paid consultant. Given the Mayor's personal opinion that the proffered science is "strong & compelling" and the Council's lack of will in seeking quality information on such a major undertaking, those with an interest in the environmental integrity of individual councillors and the council as a unit, should be very concerned.
Our opinion is that the Mulgrave Aquifer option has been largely selected on a "least cost" basis - the proposed primary bore field in the Behana sub-catchment just happens to be adjacent to the existing Behana surface-water offtake pipe that runs to Cairns. The rate payers of Cairns however should note that money spent on developing the project may be wasted if forthcoming rigorous review of the information, or later actual pumping of groundwater, reveal serious environmental impacts. Such financial waste and environmental impact will have upon them the names of the seven Councillors who voted in favour of this proposal.

Graham Wienert
Mulgrave Landcare and Catchment Group