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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Matt Brown and the Kangaloon Aquifer

On Monday, 13 November, I led a small delegation to meet with Mr Matt Brown, MLA.

Matt is the Member for Kiama, and is the Local Member for Robertson and Kangaloon. (see Kiama Electorate map below).

The meeting came about because I had previously written to Matt expressing concern about the threat to endangered species of plants, particularly the Leek Orchids in the Kangaloon Aquifer.

My colleagues on the delegation were Dr Karen Guymer, a Robertson resident and a member of the Upper Nepean Groundwater Community Reference Group (CRG), and a member of the Robertson Environment Protection Society (REPS); and Leon Hall, the president of REPS, and also a member of the CRG.

I am grateful to them for accompanying me on this delegation.

On 30 October 2006, Matt replied to my earlier letter about the endangered species in the Kangaloon Aquifer, using the following words:
  • "I would not expect any significant impact on the surface environment from rare extraction events from deep aquifers - even in the driest times Robertson area gets far more rainfall than most areas, with soils and near-surface aquifers being regularly replenished and vegetation being sustained by these."
  • "Deep aquifers as standby reserves for drought events are probably the lowest impact "new water" sources we can tap into - and far more agreeable than desalination or new dams."
I am afraid this got to me, as I knew that it was based upon a false premise, regarding the SCA taking only "deep water".

I replied to Matt Brown, asking for the opportunity to brief him on the subject, as clearly he had been misled by the SCA - along with everyone else, including the community. That is how Monday's meeting came about. And I am grateful to Matt Brown for the opportunity to put the facts on the SCA's drilling proposals in the Kangaloon Aquifer to him.
At Monday's meeting, after introductions, Karen and Leon started off by describing the groundwater structures in the Kangaloon Aquifer, and particularly the inter-relationship between the shallow groundwaters and springs, streams and particularly the "montane swamps" such as Butler's Swamp and especially Stockyard Swamp, which is right at the very peak of the Upper Nepean River catchment.

I then described how the SCA's bores have been fitted with slotted pipes which allow water to drain into the bores at different levels. The depths of these slots are designed for specific bores, to match up with different known groundwater depths in each bore. In the most extreme case, in the large diameter bore at Stockyard Swamp, the slotted pipes start a mere 11 metres below ground. That is hardly taking "deep water"!

I also pointed out that studies of the age of the water conducted by or for the SCA had shown that radioactive traces had been found in the bore samples which indicate that some of the water being taken by the SCA's test bores was "modern" water - less than 50 years old. Some of the water is ancient water - ranging from 1000 years old to more than 10,000 years old. (This is sometimes referred to as "fossil water".)

The massive divergence of age of the waters in the aquifer comes about partly because of the SCA's own practice of taking shallow water, and mixing it with the deeper, older water, in their bores. It is acknowledged that some of these bores are quite deep, but the practice of fitting slotted pipes, to allow shallow water to enter the bores is the real issue - an issue about which the SCA stands accused of deceiving the public (and the local Members of Parliament).

Also, some mixing can occur naturally because of the presence of fault lines in the Sandstone rock strata, which fault lines allow water from recent rainfall to penetrate to low level strata in the rock relatively quickly, because of the much higher permeability of fractured rock strata along the fault line than in the more solid rock strata in the main bore field. Indeed the consultant hydrologist, who conducted the "peer review" of the Technical Overview Report, Mr Don Woolley, stressed that some of the bore sites were far more productive than others, and that this was due to their proximity to the Mount Murray fault line.

So, whether the mixing of old water and new water is due to the natural mixing through the fault line, or the SCA's practice of designing their bores specifically to take both shallow water and deeper water, the fact is that their bores are not taking only deep water.

Matt responded that this was not what he was told.

I said that he need not feel bad about it, as it was not what anybody had been told - not him, nor Peta Seaton MLA, the current Member for the Southern Highlands, nor Joanna Gash MHR, the member for the federal seat of Gilmore, or the local community.

We have all been misled by the public briefings provided by the SCA. And yet, the information we were providing him was all extracted from information within the SCA's own technical reports.

He kept saying this is "new information". Indeed it is - to the public, but not to the SCA.

I left Matt with a submission in which I called upon him to make a Private Member's Statement to Parliament supporting the recommendation of the CRG for a moratorium on pumping from the Kangaloon Aquifer - a position supported by the independent submission by REPS, as well.

Matt said that he could not adopt that position himself, at this stage, however, he did undertake to make representations on our behalf, to the Minister for the Environment, Mr Bob Debus MLA.
I must admit to finding myself disappointed in this response. It is his responsibility as a local Member of Parliament to represent the views of his constituents, when specifically asked to do so. Anything less would be an abrogation of his responsibilities. So, to agree to "make representations on our behalf" is in fact the least that he can be expected to do (it is a far cry from a supporting of our position).

I say this as someone with more than 20 years experience as a federal Public Servant handling Ministerial correspondence - "representations" of precisely the kind Mr Brown has undertaken to make. I know first hand how little impact such representations have, on Government policy, in normal circumstances. Mr Brown challenge is to see if he can, as a member of the governing Party, distance himself from this particular Government policy.

The next NSW State Election, is due on 24 March 2007. However, the Government has announced that pumping from the Kangaloon Aquifer will commence in the new year. In my opinion, Matt Brown does not have much time to switch his personal position on this subject, if he ever will.

As far as I am concerned, after the pumping starts, is too late, Mr Brown. This is my personal opinion.

Once again, and now publicly, I call on Mr Brown to read the material which we left you the other day, absorb it, and decide that indeed, the Kangaloon Aquifer must not be drained. You have enough facts before you to realise that you have been misled by the SCA.

It is time to take a stand, Mr Brown, and support the moratorium on pumping from the Kangaloon Aquifer.
I await Mr Brown's response to our submission, and I look forward to hearing back from him, after he has made representations to Mr Debus. But the January deadline for pumping is looming fast.
I would like to record my appreciation of the hard work of the members of the Upper Nepean Groundwater Community Reference Group , and of people like Dr Emmett O'Loughlin who worked "pro bono" for several months on details of the SCA's investigations into the Kangaloon Aquifer. Dr O'Loughlin addressed the National Parks Association, (NPA) Southern Highlands Branch about the Kangaloon Aquifer in August this year.

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