Water security without Tillegra or desal

The Greens vision for lower water bills, more jobs and a healthier environment for the Lower Hunter

The Greens today announced their plans to involve the Hunter community in developing a water strategy that would eliminate the need for either a desalination plant or a new dam.

Greens candidate for Newcastle, John Sutton, was joined by NSW MP John Kaye and other Hunter Greens candidates to announce a new direction for the region’s water supplies and for Hunter Water, including:

¨ Legislation to protect the Williams River by prohibiting the development of dams and large scale water extraction projects upstream from Seaham Weir,

¨ Legislation to prohibit the construction of a desalination plant in the Hunter without the approval of both houses of the NSW parliament,

¨ An independently conducted public consultation on the future of the region’s water supply that explores all options,

¨ Introducing $44 million worth of water saving programs, including improving residential efficiency both indoor and in the garden using free installations and rebates, rainwater tank rebates and leakage reduction[1],

¨ Identifying and removing perverse incentives in water pricing that encourage high industrial and commercial water use, and

¨ A program for increased water recycling for industrial uses.

Hunter Water repeatedly threatened that without Tillegra it would push for a desalination plant, most likely at Stockton Beach. The Keneally government has left the energy-hungry, polluting option on the table, while the Liberal candidate for Newcastle indicated his preference for restarting the Tillegra Dam proposal.

The Greens join independent water experts in arguing that neither Tillegra nor desalination are needed to keep the Hunter abundantly supplied with water. Either would push up household water bills and badly damage the environment.

Cheaper, cleaner options including rebates for water efficient washing machines and rainwater tanks, free advice on water-wise gardens and retrofitting dual flush and efficient toilets are proven to be much more cost effective and just as reliable as desalination or dams.

The Greens believe that the community should be directly involved in water planning. The National Urban Water Planning initiative, which has been thoroughly ignored by Hunter Water and the Keneally government, requires the community to be given quality information about all options and be directly involved in making the final decisions.

Media comments

The Greens candidate for Newcastle, John Sutton said: “The Greens worked hard to stop Tillegra.

“Now we want to complete the job by removing the desalination option and Tillegra from the debate and instead putting the community in the driving seat.

“If the NSW Labor government had done this in 2006 when they sprung Tillegra on the community, four years of divisive debate could have been avoided.

“With the right information, the community is in the best position to sort out which options work and which will not.

“The Hunter has the lowest rate of water recycling of any similar sized city in Australia. More recycling – especially by water-intensive industries – would significantly increase the water available for drinking.

“New developments should be designed to be water neutral, using on-site recycling, rainwater collection, and advanced levels of water efficiency.

“The Institute for Sustainable Futures’ November 2010 study showed that there are combinations of household water efficiency measures, rainwater tank rebates and leakage reduction that would provide more than adequate water security.

“The water savings approach would cost less than one tenth of Tillegra and one twentieth of desalination with none of their environmental impacts.

“The Greens want to put all the options before the community.

“For just $44 million, the Hunter’s water supplies can survive population growth and drought and begin to reduce the burden of water bills on households.

“Both Hunter Water and the Coalition have a lot of work to do to rebuild community confidence. After Tim Owen’s outburst last week, there is a real risk that we could be battling against Tillegra again in another five years.

“John Tate sat firmly on the fence throughout the last four years, waiting to see which way the wind was blowing.

“The Greens are calling for a genuine commitment from all parties to allow the community to have the final say on their own water future,” Mr Sutton said.

Greens NSW MP John Kaye said: “Even with rapid population growth, there is no urgency for a new supply option.

“There is plenty of time to work with the community and make sure that we get it right.

“Funding household water-saving programs and rebates for tanks and efficient washing machines has worked well for Sydney, where water consumption per household has fallen by 20 percent in two decades.

“The Greens want to give Hunter households the same chance to cut their water usage, reduce their bills and take the pressure off the environment.

“The community has no reason to trust Hunter Water. They are addicted to the big engineering projects that will push up water bills and devastate the environment.

“The Greens are committed to removing the threat of an expensive, damaging and unnecessary dam once and for all by expelling Hunter Water from the Williams River valley.

“The only way to ensure that we are not facing another Tillegra dam threat in five years time is to strip Hunter Water of its land and lock in with legislation a ban on dams on the Williams River.

“In November last year, the Keneally government promised an independent review of planning for the Hunter’s water supply. Since then the community has heard nothing from either major party.

“We will be challenging the next government to work with us to take both desalination and Tillegra off the table and allow the community to choose its own water future,” Dr Kaye said.

For more information: John Kaye 0407 195 455; John Sutton 0411 154 004


Typical water efficiency options

From Sydney Water “Water Conservation and Recycling Implementation Report” 2009-10

The Love Your Garden program offered customers the opportunity to have a qualified horticulturalist review the water needs of their garden. The service provided a detailed watering plan specific to each garden’s needs and tools such as tap timers, rain gauges and tap tags. This service was valued at $180 but was provided to customers for $33.

WaterFix provides households with an opportunity to have a qualified plumber:

¨ install a new water efficient (WELS 3-star) showerhead,

¨ install tap flow regulators,

¨ install toilet cistern flush arrestor for single-flush toilets

¨ repair minor leaks.

The WaterFix service, including fittings and labour, is valued at $180.

The washing machine rebate program provided a $150 incentive for households to purchase a water efficient washing machine.

The dual-flush toilet rebate program provides a $200 incentive for households that replace an existing single-flush toilet with a 4 star or greater dual-flush toilet.

The hot water circulator rebate program provides a $150 incentive for households that install an eligible hot water circulator to a new or existing instantaneous gas hot water system.

The land sale issue

Hunter Water (HWC) held land in the Tillegra Valley before the 13 September 2006 announcement of the project by then Premier Morris Iemma, largely purchased for a failed 1982 attempt to build the dam.

From early 2007 until the November 2010 announcement that the project had been cancelled, HWC purchased $45 million of additional land, with options for the owners to buy back their holdings if the dam was cancelled.

Premier Keneally in her media release announcing the rejection of the proposal promised that the land owners who sold since 2006 would be offered the right to exercise their options to repurchase. At this stage, no such offers have been made.

Hunter Water’s continued ownership of a significant land portfolio in the Tillegra Valley sends a very destructive signal to potential investors in farms in the area.

By creating uncertainty about the future of the region, HWC is:

¨ scaring off new investors,

¨ reducing land values,

¨ discouraging long term management of the land, and

¨ undermining the development of employment opportunities in Dungog.

Land use planning

The local Dungog community who fought hard against the dam are now attempting to plan for a future without Tillegra. They have engaged a planning consultant to develop a land use plan and will be asking Dungog Council and the state government to work with them to restore valley to its food producing potential and its original rural character.

Uncertainty about the future of the Valley will undermine this attempt to recreate the economic and social stability that was destroyed by the Tillegra proposal.

Hunter Water’s involvement

Neither the local community nor the Greens trust Hunter Water.

Continued land ownership will act as a constant source of temptation to restart the Tillegra proposal.

There is a strong desire to remove Hunter Water from the sale process in favour of a whole-of-government management team, because the Water Authority is likely to:

¨ undermine the sale of land to keep Tillegra alive, and

¨ be unwilling to facilitate the restoration of the rural character of the region.

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