Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, March 06, 2006

Jonathan Bell's statement to the Aquifer meeting

The following is the text of Mr Jonathan Bell's statement to Saturday's meeting regarding the Kangaloon Aquifer.


Robertson School of Arts
12.30pm, 4th March 2006

Address by Jonathan Bell,
New South Wales Farmers' Association Sydney Water Catchment Taskforce

My name is Jonathan Bell.

We breed and fatten Angus cattle at Glenquarry. Very close to here. Our property, originally a dairy farm, is fundamentally, and has always traditionally been, dependant on the aquifer that keeps our springs flowing.

The wonderful creeks in our area, many of them carrying the highest environmental classification under the Environment Protection Act, the 'S' classification, are spring fed. That is to say, they are dependant on the aquifer that keeps our springs flowing.

We have had two bores drilled by the Sydney Catchment Authority in very close proximity to our land ~ one less than 100 meters away. The other some 150 meters away.

We have been very concerned by this bore drilling activity in this general area for some time and have been in correspondence with Mr Tony Collins, Program Director, Metropolitan Water Plan for the Sydney Catchment Authority. We have been seeking a formal covenant or agreement with the NSW government ~ an agreement that will run with the title to our land ~ that, in the event that the proposed use of the deep aquifers to provide Sydney with water deleteriously affects our traditional water supplies, that we will be granted access to surface water supplies controlled by the government in the immediate vicinity of our property.

Not an unreasonable request you might say.

The government is not coming to the party. I am told that my worries are ill founded and premature.

Well, if our worries are ill founded, why has not the government said to us that they will sign such a covenant? The government would have nothing to lose. But no such offer is being made. This is all very alarming indeed.


As some of you know, I have a long history of involvement with the New South Wales Farmers' Association. I have continuously held elected office in that Association for the past 32 years.

I am currently the President of the Moss Vale Branch of the Association.

I also currently serve (and have done so for a number of years) as an elected member of the Executive Council of the Association.

I am also the Chairman of the NSWFA Sydney Water Catchment Task Force which was set up by the then President of the Association, Mal Peters, following upon the 1998 Sydney water quality scare. It is for this reason that Peta Seaton invited me to speak to the meeting today.

I congratulate the initiative of Peta Seaton in calling this meeting today. Peta is doing a great job in representing all members of her constituency no matter on which side of the political fence they stand. She is a good listener and a hard and effective worker who empathises very closely with the vital concerns of those whom she represents in our NSW state parliament. Well done Peta ~ we are very lucky to have you.

My involvement with the NSWFA Sydney Water Catchment Taskforce arose out of the following saga of events which most of you will recall very clearly:

· On 21st July 1998 Sydney Water informed the NSW Health Dept that Cryptosporodium and Giardia were present in the Sydney Drinking Water Supply in quantities large enough to cause concern for human health.

· On 26th July 1998 the government issued a “boiled water alert” and indicated that Sydney's Drinking Water posed a risk to health and in the case of immuno-suppressed individuals the possibility of death. Citizens were informed to boil all drinking water prior to ingestion. This alert continued until 4th August 1998.

· A second “contamination” occurred on 24th August 1998 which instigated second boil water alert. This was followed by a third on the 5th September 1998, when a two-week boil water alert was put in place.

· On 11 September, Cryptosporodium and Giardia were reported at six water treatment plants as at high levels although no boiled water alert was issued. The reason given was that the laboratories had misidentified the organisms. Their methods, were deficient, quality assurance failed, erroneous data was generated and misinterpreted.

All the above assertions are substantiated by the McClelland QC Enquiry and are on the public record. It is also a matter of record that no person in Sydney became ill as the result of drinking water during the crisis.

As is known, the public were terrified by the alleged “crisis”. It was in this atmosphere that the government made a knee jerk reaction to the McClelland QC Enquiry that identified the failures in laboratory work etc… but failed to criticize the NSW government's response to the “crisis”. The unedifying result of all of this was that the government's attempt to appease the population resulted in splitting Sydney Water in two, leading to the formation of the Sydney Catchment Authority.


It was in this environment that the government proposed to saddle the vast Sydney Water Catchment with the draconian Regional Environmental Plan Mk I. It was to represent the interests of farmers within that vast catchment in dealing with this piece of draconian beaureucratic nonsense that Mal Peters set up our Taskforce.

The work of the Taskforce over a long period has seen two re-drafts of the Draft Regional Environmental Plan with a third soon to be released.

I think it fair to say that we are very hopeful that Mk III of the Plan will deliver a document that we can all live and work with. Our Taskforce stands by to see that this is so.


Then on Wednesday, February 8th February 2006 came the bombshell for this Southern Highlands region.

On that day, Premier Iemma announced that the deeply unpopular $500 million desalination plant had been shelved indefinitely following the discovery of two deep groundwater sources in Sydney's west and down here in this very area where we are meeting today.

The announcement stated that the sources found underneath the Nepean River catchment are extensive enough to provide up to 30 billion litres of water a year for the next three to four years.

That is to say it will provide almost the same amount of water on a daily basis as the desalination plant.


It is the serious public alarm and concern that this announcement has caused that has brought us here today. These concerns are not idly held. I raised my own concerns and some specific questions with an eminent scientist who had this to say to me:

  • Some aquifers are comprised of geological water and once they are pumped out, the water is gone and that is that. Others are replenished rapidly and provided the pumping rate does not exceed the replenishment rate, they can be a supply of water indefinitely. Of course, with our variable rainfall, the replenishment rate will vary over time and so they are just like a dam in that respect - except that the water is underground and it is harder to estimate the amount of water left. I know of one bore (which had been fitted with a windmill) on an aquifer on a property near Walcha where the replenishment rate was very fast. In 1990 when we had had very heavy winter rain for the past three winters, it was so full that the water was squirting out the top of the pipe even when the mill was turned off!

  • Hydrologists can estimate the rate of replenishment of an aquifer by estimating the age of the water. This is done by isotope studies. I have forgotten the details but I know it can be done. If the water being pumped out of an aquifer is very "young" - in other words, it fell as rain recently - then the replenishment is rapid. If it has been there for a very long time, then the replenishment rate is slow and it may even be geological water and is not being replenished at all.

  • It seems to me that if you get water from a bore 100 m from your boundary, you need to find out the age of that water. If it is "young" water, then there is less concern than if it is "old" water.

  • Therefore, my advice would be to find an independent consultant hydrologist who can age the water for you and give some estimate of the rate of replenishment. You will also need to find out how to collect suitable samples for ageing. With this knowledge, you would be in a better position to tackle Sydney Water if it becomes necessary. It may cost an arm and a leg to get samples aged, but it would be worth it in the long run.
  • Now to have a go at your specific questions:

  • Will the aquifers replenish? It depends entirely on the geology of the area and how long the present water has been in the aquifer.

  • If so, where will the water come from to replenish these aquifers? Again, this depends on the geology of the area. Sometimes it comes from local rain as in coastal sand mass aquifers or in ones near the top of the divide as in the one near Walcha that I described above. The intake beds for the Great Artesian basin for the bores near Moree are near Warialda.

  • For those farming in the areas close to the bore heads will their aquifers be disturbed? Assuming that the local farmers depend on the aquifers for either stock water or irrigation, then it depends entirely on the rate of pumping in relation to the rate of replenishment. If the replenishment is slower than the rate of pumping, then the water level in the aquifer will fall.

  • What science is there to say just where the water will come from to replenish these deep aquifers? Just how big is the area in which farmers' aquifers will be affected by Sydney plundering water from them? Again, I can't answer these questions but have suggested how you might go about finding out the basic information to present the government with a good case for what you want. Over a larger area, it would mean dating the water from a number of different bores to find out how many different aquifers are involved and something about the different (if they are different) replenishment rates.

  • A brief case study might help you: Coffs Harbour has a water problem in that it is not on a major river and most of the area behind it is on a large coastal sand lens with fresh water underneath. Some years ago, consulting engineers for the local council estimated the volume of water and found that there was plenty there and so the council decided to build a big pumping plant to enable them to use this water. However, it was all new water and, because there were no rivers running into the area, the conclusion was that it was entirely replenished by local rain.
  • A couple our botanists were engaged by the council to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement concerning any effects the proposal might have on the local vegetation. A quick, back of an envelope calculation showed that with the proposed pumping rate and the estimated annual input from the average rainfall over the area, the aquifer would run dry in a very few years. The final result was that the council eventually abandoned the scheme.
  • I hope all this helps. The key is to find some independent hydrologic consultants with the expertise and facilities (or contacts) to age the water and estimate the replenishment rates of the aquifer(s) involved. Some NSW Farmers Association members must have engaged consulting hydrologists in the past and so must have a better idea than I do about who to talk to.

The NSWFA has pledged to play a full part with all the citizens of this community to have this very dangerous and ill thought out proposal by the Iemma Government reversed

Our current President of NSWFA, Jock Laurie, has extended the terms of reference of our NSWFA Task Force so that we can effectively fight this issue. We are now preparing a detailed brief, addressing the scientific issues raised, and pledge here today to work with this entire community to see that common sense and 'a fair go' prevail on this issue.

NSWFA believes the strategy announced by Premier Iemma on February 8th 2006 is deeply floored in that it puts the cart before the horse in a most worrying and irrational manner.


The 2004 Metropolitan Water Plan (Meeting the challenges. Securing Sydney's water future) states that, "It is a balancing act between having enough water in the short term and ensuring we manage our water resources sustainably in the longer term."

NSWFA does not agree with this. We say that it makes more sense in today's context to manage our waters sustainably in the short term so as to ensure enough water in the longer term.

We say that, instead of encouraging the population of Sydney to believe they can use as much water as they want, the government would be better advised to concentrate an intensive public education program to encourage households to use no more drinking water than they need to sustain household health, to encourage industries to use recycled water to sustain the health of their industries, and to discharge the recycled surplus back into the rivers to sustain the health of the rivers and estuaries.

The issue of recycling is the big sleeper in all of this. Many other major cities in Australia and throughout the western world, with the assistance of state of the art recycling and purification plants have adopted this option to secure their water needs.

NSWFA sees it as the major challenge to successfully advocate this recycling option to those who occupy the Treasury Benches in Macquarie Street.


So where do we start and how can we all, as individuals play, a part:

  • Form Local Groups:I hear that a local Kangaloon residents group may be formed. This can only do good in bringing the community together to keep informed and to share knowledge and opinions as to how best to meet the challenge of wheeling the government on this vital issue.

  • Encourage Wingecarribee Shire Council to take a leading role in coordinating the bringing together all groups and individuals in our community by setting up Community Aquifer Advisory Council.

Our area is rich in talent and expertise of many different kinds. I would love to see our Council foster and encourage these rich talents to come together for the good of the whole community on the important aquifer issue. The benefits of combined wisdom can never be over-estimated in my opinion.

On behalf of our NSWFA President, Jock Laurie, I have been requested to say to all present here today that NSWFA will not be found wanting when the whips are cracking on this issue. We regard it as a vitally important issue confronting this community. We will be vitally involved with you on this one and would be very happy to serve on any Community Advisory Group that may be set up, if invited to do so.

End of the statement by Mr Bell.

Thanks Jonathan - a very thorough review, and a plan for future action by the community.

No comments: