Date: Wednesday, 25 April 2007 8:20 AM
Hon. Peter McGauran MP
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Deputy Leader of the House
25 April 2007
Re: Howard Government proposal to divert water from northern New South Wales to south-east Queensland.
On 12 April 2007 the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Federal Minister for Environment and Water Resources, released the National Water Commission's contracted desktop study outlining proposals to divert water from the NSW Northern Rivers, with a focus on the Clarence River catchment area, to supply the south-east Queensland water grid.
I note that the Clarence catchment area currently supplies water to two local government areas experiencing sustained population growth, the Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour.The current combined population of both these areas is estimated at 113,000 residents.
I draw your attention to the following facts:
* The bulk of the Clarence catchment area falls within the 100km wide New South Wales coastal strip, which historically supplies approximately 20 per cent of the state's agricultural product. This coastal strip is likely to increase in importance, due to long-term difficulties experienced in the Murray-Darling basin with regard to water supply for food production.
* The Clarence Valley economy is heavily underpinned by agriculture, commercial fishing, forestry and tourism.
* Clarence agricultural commodities have an estimated annual value of $69.6M and, commercial fishing catches from the Clarence River estuary and North Coast ocean zones have estimated annual values of $47M and $27.6M respectively.
* Total agricultural value remains fairly consistent over time and the lucrative annual prawn catch in the Clarence River estuary is from one of only four NSW authorised estuary sites.
* Commercial ocean fish and crustacean species both breed and feed in the Clarence River estuary system.
* Bulk product transport for forestry-based industry is partly dependent on coastal shipping loading timber from Clarence River docks.
* Island traders servicing Lord Howe and Norfolk islands and, trading as far as Auckland, also depend on berthing in the Clarence River at Yamba, Harwood and Goodwin.
* Commercial fishing fleets are sited at Iluka and Yamba on the Clarence River.
* North Coast tourism, in which the Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour are integral parts, has an estimated annual value in excess of $57.4M.
The dollar values stated cover various periods from 2000-2004 and can be verified in the Commonwealth's own study of April 2005, "Northern Rivers and North Coast NSW Region: a regional profile" [C'wealth Dept. of Transport and Regional Services].
It is my understanding that, when initially approached by the National Water Commission, the NSW Dept. of Natural Resources advised that there was no unallocated water available for export to south-east Queensland. All flow being apportioned to the environment, basic land-holder rights, stock, irrigators, industry or town water supply needs.[The Daily Examiner,24 April 2007,"Federal Govt ignored advice about lack of Clarence water",p.5]
It is apparent from the wealth of publicly available New South Wales data, that any damming of or water extraction from the Clarence River or its tributaries carries potential risk of damage to the general environment, riparian zones, river bed stability and river ecosystems, as well as increasing existing river siltation and sand build-up in the sea approach to and bar at the Clarence river mouth.
All of these possible outcomes of additional hydrological stress and decreased inflow to the river tidal zone will impact on the viability of Clarence Valley agriculture, commercial fishing, forest industry and tourism.
Yet despite the aforementioned circumstances being widely known to the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister is reported in the media as stating that piping water from the Clarence River "is still very much on the agenda" [ABC Online,Local Radio, 21 April 2007,"The World today",transcript].
In the week following the 12 April announcement of the desktop study findings, The Daily Examiner, Grafton NSW, received an unusually high number of letters opposing this blatant water grab.
The Clarence Valley Council, Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition and Clarence River Professional Fishermen's Association have also publicly expressed their concern and opposition to the Howard-Turnbull proposal.
Two of the three sitting Nationals MPs whose electorates take in the Clarence Valley publicly oppose diverting Clarence catchment area water ie., Luke Hartsuyker, Federal MP for Cowper and Steve Cansdell, NSW MP for Clarence.
Many in the Clarence Valley view this proposal as flawed policy.
Further to this, I draw your attention to the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation desktop study, released in April 2007, titled "Integrated Water Supply Options for North East New South Wales and South East Queensland".
The report does not fully cost any of the water diversion options and, fails to even attempt to cost some of the most expensive elements. It admits to basing its financial analysis on a number of sweeping assumptions.
Many of the data compilations used are incomplete with some of the data being unverified and, in some cases the margin for error runs at 20 per cent and higher.
There are no in-depth environmental impact assessments. Though the study does briefly mention having to pass through areas containing old growth forest and/or high aesthetic value and wild terrain and, that the broadly preferred options would significantly impact on the environment and some potentially impact on the Clarence River delta.
No detailed proposed pipeline route inspections, dam site investigations, geological assessments, theodic surveys, or engineering investigations were undertaken and, topographic assessment relied only on perusal of military maps.
Sustainable levels of water extraction are not sufficiently identified and are just presumed to exist.
No mathematical models of the Northern Rivers systems were created and no detailed computer modelling was run.
It is presumed that the Clarence Valley will have no significant water demand shortfalls into the future.
There are no in-depth economic impact assessments.
Social impacts and indigenous cultural values are virtually ignored.
No real attempt has been made to quantify any yield impacts of proposed additional water entering the Queensland system.
The Gold Coast mayor, Ron Clarke, has recently stated that the identified Logan and Nerang rivers in south-east Queensland have plenty of water and do not require Clarence or Tweed water to be piped directly into them, that such piped water would cause environmental damage, achieve little and, that these Queensland rivers flow out into the ocean anyway [ABC Online, 16 April 2007,"Gold Coast Mayor pours cold water on pipe plan"].
A great deal of the information this study relies on has been Googled from the world-wide web and, in one instance it brazenly seeks to rely on a brochure.
Even as a preliminary document this desktop study is manifestly inadequate.
I ask that you give serious consideration to supporting the Northern Rivers region and, the Clarence Valley in particular, in its demonstrated opposition to this hasty, ill-conceived scheme.
Further, I ask that you discuss these matters with the Hon. Mark Vaile and raise the issue with the Prime Minister.
In anticipation and appreciation of your assistance with this matter.
JUDITH M. MELVILLE
Labels: climate change, environment, water policy politics