WATERWORKS: Ballina MP Tamara Smith meets with the Save Alstonville Aquifer group yesterday.
WATERWORKS: Ballina MP Tamara Smith meets with the Save Alstonville Aquifer group yesterday. Aisling Brennan

Farmers pressure government over water extraction plans

FRUSTRATED Alstonville Plateau farmers are calling on the NSW Government to reconsider their assessment of water extraction in the region.

Ballina MP Tamara Smith spoke with concerned residents yesterday about a development application for increasing permitted water extraction at an Ellis Rd property at Rous.

The application proposes the 61 megalitres that can be removed from on-site bores for the irrigation of existing blueberry crops be increased to 100 megalitres.

The proposed increase would see surplus water that's not used for on-site irrigation bottled by a third party for retail sale.

Ms Smith told the group she'd recently spoken to Minister for Water Melinda Pavey about the Chief Scientist's report on water extraction, which is yet to be finalised.

"She basically said that she wants me to sit down with the Chief Scientist because they're telling her that there is an underground river that's never ending,” Ms Smith said.

"But when we've got someone who wants to extend their licence to start exporting overseas our good food growing water and drinking water, then we have a problem.”

The Save Alstonville Aquifer group have tried to stress to the government how their area differed from other parts of the region, with one member sending 64 emails and phone calls and getting only one reply.

"The (Alstonville Plateau) is a completely different situation to the rest of the Far North Coast because this is an isolated belt of land, the only bit of water that enters the plateau is rainfall, we've got no mountain range to feed it and there's no vast coastal lowlands where there's probably groundwater around it,” former DPI research scientist David Huett said.

A Ballina Shire Council representative also attended the meeting to answer questions about the the process but stressed any possible future changes to the LEP would not be retrospective for current applications.

Ms Smith urged the group to become "a little less polite” and start lobbying Ballina councillors.