A very well attended meeting (about 200 people) gave their full (and polite) attention to a panel of speakers about the NSW Government's proposal to drain the Kangaloon Aquifer. The meeting was well run by Peta Seaton MLA, Member for the Southern Highlands. Peta gave a very thorough history of the proposal and also outlined what information she had been given by the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA). She then introduced a panel of speakers, including Jonathan Bell, a Glen Quarry resident and representative of the NSW Farmers Association, followed by Matt Brown, MLA, Member for Kiama.
Matt handed out an information sheet which had been prepared by the SCA. He talked about the various steps which the Government is taking with regard to water management. As Mr Brown had to leave early, he fielded a number of questions, mostly about wastage of water. Ford Kristo asked an interesting question about Sydney having exceeded its "optimal size" and so, was the Government considering decentralisation? Mr Brown's answer completely missed the point, for although he spoke about various "Growth Centres" which had been designated by the Government, they were all within the same conurbation, and specifically (as far as this audience was concerned) within the same water catchment.
How is that going to help this issue, Mr Brown?
Then Clr Larry Whipper, from Robertson spoke about the Wingecarribee Shire Council's involvement in lobbying the NSW Government about this proposal, and specifically, the disinformation which Council had been given previously by the SCA. Next to speak was Dr. John Skidmore, from Kangaroo Valley, representing the campaigners against the raising the wall of the Tallawa Dam. Then Joanna Gash, MHR, Federal Member for Gilmore spoke. The deputy Mayor, Clr Campbell-Jones and Clr Jim Mauger were also present.
Peta Seaton then invited general questions and statements from the people at the meeting. Questions ranged from possible legal remedies to this situation, to what measures are being taken to reduce wastage of water in Sydney, and specifically by industry.
Clearly, the meeting was entirely unconvinced by assurances from the "authorities" that the ground water to be tapped was different from the springs of the local hillsides and the ground water and currently being tapped by bores. A geological chart which Ms Seaton had been given by the Sydney Catchment Authority showed the Robertson Basalt overlaying the Wianamatta Shale and in due turn, the underlying sandstone. That is basically correct. However, the claim was made by the SCA to Ms Seaton, (who relayed it to the meeting) that the Shale layer was impervious to water, and so the water in the Basalt hills was "above" and separate from the aquifer in the sandstone. Farmers and other people with bores spoke about their experiences with deep bores going well into the sandstone, and even, in one case, through the underlying "coal measures" (which surprised me). The point was made over and over, that nobody really knows where the water begins or ends, but we do not believe what the Government is telling us about our springs and the bore water being separate from the so-called deep water aquifer. The point was made that the Audit of the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment (December 2005) called on the authorities to establish the precise relationship between ground water and surface water in the catchment. That Audit report appears to have been ignored.
With regard to the geological chart from the SCA which Peta Seaton showed us, it is my understanding that the Basalt of the local area is a volcanic extrusion up through the sandstone plateau and the overlying Shale, and so the supposedly "impermeable" shale layer was ruptured in many places, when the volcanic activity underneath forced the basalt to the surface (about 30 million years ago). That is how water, which falls as rain on the Robertson basalt caps enters the aquifer below. As such I feel it is simplistic nonsense for the SCA to tell us that our springs are "safe" as they come from the basalt caps above the aquifer, when geologists tell us that the lower strata of rock have been ruptured, and so do not form an impervious layer at all. That allows a potential 2-way flow of water to and from the aquifer below. So, in my understanding all the local groundwater is part of the one system.
Ms Seaton concluded the meeting with a summary of the "mood of the room" (which was abundantly obvious), and undertook to lobby the Government accordingly, and to circulate information to the people who attended the meeting, and to convene any community group which might be formed (perhaps in conjunction with the Council) to consider the aquifer proposal further.
As one of the speakers from the floor said: "Lets keep the Green Heart of the Highlands green".
I could not agree more.