Protestors gather outside the Tweed Shire Council Chambers to sound their voice against water extraction in Uki. Politicians across the Northern Rivers have this week called for a moratorium from the State Government.
Protestors gather outside the Tweed Shire Council Chambers to sound their voice against water extraction in Uki. Politicians across the Northern Rivers have this week called for a moratorium from the State Government. Scott Powick

Water extraction applicant responds to calls for moratorium

AN APPLICANT for a water extraction project says they deserve a "fair and unbiased assessment” despite calls from both side of politics for a moratorium on new licences.

Tim Carey is the proponent for an Alstonville application - currently before Ballina Shire Council - for water to be removed from an Ellis Rd, Alstonville property for bottling.

Mr Carey said a moratorium would not affect their operations as they already had a licence from NSW Water.

He said they currently had approval to remove 61 megalitres a year, and their pending application seeks to increase that to 100ML.

He said they would continue to use 20-30ML to water existing blueberry crops.

The remainder of the 100ML they have proposed would be taken off site for bottling.

"At the end of the day, we bought the property and we put an application into council and an application with NSW Water,” Mr Carey said.

"All we're asking for is a fair and unbiased assessment.

"We've done a full hydrological study of the property.”

Mr Carey said "all the evidence” pointed to the proposal being "sustainable”.

"The percentage of groundwater that we propose to use in our development is less than 0.1 per cent of the allocation on the Alstonville plateau,” he said.

Mr Carey's DA was last month called in for Ballina Shire councillors' consideration.

Councillors will attend a briefing session to gain further information about the application before making a decision.

Ballina Mayor David Wright said while they would consider each DA on its merits, he would welcome a moratorium if it meant more understanding for decision-makers.

"I have no problem with a moratorium to find out more about it,” Mr Wright said.

"They can see the ramifications. The ramifications are huge, particularly for water.”

The Nationals' Ballina candidate Ben Franklin said he'd met with residents who were "deeply concerned” by Mr Carey's proposal.

"Their concerns relate to the potential impact on the water table, a range of possible environmental impacts and concerns about possible safety issues on local roads due to increased traffic,” Mr Franklin said.

"I share those concerns and today I am calling on the State Government to conduct a full and independent inquiry into the sustainability of the bottled spring water industry.”

The Nationals' Lismore candidate Austin Curtin, current Lismore MP Thomas George and Labor candidates for Lismore, Ballina and Tweed Janelle Saffin, Asren Pugh and Craig Elliot have called for a halt on approvals from the state and local councils.

Mr Curtin's push for more "hard facts” was based on concerns for another project at Uki.

"Water security is an issue facing communities across the country and the public has the right to know what effect industry is having on this important resource,” Mr Curtin said.

"I want NSW Chief Scientist Hugh Durrant-Whyte to investigate, whether the water able to be extracted through groundwater licences on the Northern Rivers is sustainable, and the viability of the bottled water sector in our region.”

"Both Government and the community need to be presented the hard facts.

"If any investigation finds issues with current water licences, then the government and council must take steps to ensure the sector is sustainably managed into the future.”

A spokesman for NSW Chief Scientist Hugh Durrant-Whyte said water extraction was not within their usual realm of operations.

"The only involvement (with water) the Chief Scientist has had to date has been assessing the application of Water Pilot Technology Program,” he said.

In a joint statement, Ms Saffin, Mr Pugh and Mr Elliot called for the all Northern Rivers councils to suspend granting any new DAs for commercial water extraction.

"Labor in Government will hold a Parliamentary Review into the licencing of commercial water extraction to ensure such activity is sustainable and to address community concerns,” they said in the statement.

"Council's primary responsibility is to deal with truck movements, but the water extraction licencing system is run by NSW Water.

"We are calling on local councils to hit the pause button on any future development applications involving water extraction for bottling, or where applicable, remove the clause from their LEP.

"We urge the Berejiklian - Barilaro NSW Government to commit to a comprehensive review of the granting of water extraction licences and specifically the impact on our water table and aquifers.”

The Tweed Water Alliance is hosting a "water mining information tour” starting in Mullumbimby from 8am next Saturday, November 17.

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair has been approached for comment.