Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Clarence River Catchment Fresh Water Diversion: facing today's threat while remembering yesterday's response

2007 bumper sticker

Clarence Valley Council, Ordinary Monthly Meeting Business Paper, 9 August 2016:

Policy or Regulation

Council has previously established its policy position on proposals to divert the Clarence River through various Council resolutions. At its meeting of 18 October 2006 Council resolved (Resolution 12.005/06):

That Council oppose the diversion, damming or re-directing of water from the Clarence River. 

Council again resolved at its meeting of 17 April 2007 (Resolution 05.006/07): That the report on the Clarence River diversion proposal be received and noted and that Clarence Valley Council reiterates its policy position of total opposition to any proposal that would result in any diversion of water from Clarence catchments. 

When the issue of diversion was proposed to be debated at the Local Government & Shires Association (LGSA) Conference in 2007, Council resolved at its meeting of 15 May 2007 (Resolution 05.008/07): 

That the following late Motion be placed before the forthcoming Annual Conference of the Shires Association of New South Wales. “That the Associations approach both the State and Federal Governments expressing their total opposition to any proposal for river diversion.”

As outlined in Report 05.009/07 to the Council meeting of 19 June 2007, it was not possible to put the late motion as the LGSA Conference resolved “That the Association pursue with the Federal Minister for Environment and water, measures to address the current and future concerns with water shortages for inland cities, towns and communities posed by the current drought and future droughts, and that the National Water Initiative consider ways and means of so addressing”.

At its meeting of 16 November 2010 Council again confirmed its opposition to Diversion (Resolution 10.017/10):

The Council again register it strong opposition to any plans to divert waters out of the Clarence catchment.

Clarence Valley Council submission to a NSW Upper House inquiry to which Griffith City Council made a submission asking that an old scheme for damming and diverting freshwater from the Boyd, Mann, Nymboida and Timbarra rivers (Clarence River tributaries) be considered:

10 August 2016
DWS#1682591 Contact: Greg Mashiah

The Director
General Purpose Standing Committee No 5 
Legislative Council
Parliament House
Macquarie Street

Dear Sir

Inquiry into Water Augmentation in Rural and Regional New South Wales - Submission

Thank you for the opportunity for Council to make a submission to the above enquiry. Clarence Valley Council is located on the north coast of NSW and contains most of the Clarence River catchment within its area. The Clarence River is the largest coastal river in NSW. Council is a Local Water Utility (LWU) responsible for sewer and water services to urban area and also provides bulk water to the adjoining Coffs Harbour City Council. Clarence Valley Council is also responsible for floodplain management.

Council’s submission responds to three items in the terms of reference which are considered relevant to Council’s operations:

1b) Examine the suitability of existing New South Wales water storages and any future schemes for augmentation of water supply for New South Wales, including the potential for acquifer discharge.
Clarence Valley and its neighbouring Coffs Harbour City Council have jointly developed a Regional Water Supply (RWS) scheme to provide water security to residents until at least the year 2046. The RWS comprise:
· A “non build” element of water efficiency measures, which commenced in 1997 and is implemented through the joint Water Efficiency Strategic Plan (http://www.clarence.nsw.gov.au/page.asp?f=RES-UHJ-43-64-30), and
· A “build” element, which comprises a pipeline linking the two Council water supplies which was completed in 2004 and construction of a 30,000ML off-creek storage at Shannon Creek which was completed in 2009. The Shannon Creek Dam storage is designed for future raising to 75,000ML capacity to service demand beyond 2046. The storage is “transparent” to its catchment in that all runoff from the catchment is required to be released to match the pre-storage hydrologic.

The RWS project, which was recognised with multiple industry awards including the prestigious International Water Association’s Asia-Pacific Project Innovation Award in the planning category, demonstrates how regional Local Water Utilities can jointly plan and deliver water infrastructure to meet future needs including provision of suitable water storages.

One significant concern for Council is that, while the RWS storage has been designed to be augmented to 75,000ML to provide capacity for development beyond 2046, future legislative changes may adversely impact this option. It is therefore requested that the Committee consider this issue.

1d) examine the 50 year flood history in New South Wales, particularly in northern coastal New South Wales, including the financial and human cost. Since 1966 the Clarence River has experienced 29 floods which exceeded the “minor” flood level at the Prince Street gauge in Grafton (2.10m), and of those 17 were classified as “major” floods (>5,40m). Four floods in a single year were experienced in both 1974 and 1976, and three floods in a single year were experienced in 1967 and 2013.

The town of Grafton is protected by a flood levee which provides protection up to approximately the 5% Average Exceedance Probability (AEP) event, and the town of Maclean is protected by a levee which provides protection up to approximately the 2% AEP event. Since the Grafton and Maclean levees were constructed in the 1970s they have not been overtopped, although in January 2013 at Grafton the flood height was equal to the top of the levee, requiring evacuation of a small area of the town.

In the March 2001 and May 2009 floods, evacuation of all of Grafton was ordered due to uncertainty about whether the flood levee would be overtopped if the predicted flood heights were reached, and how the flood would behave once the levee was overtopped. As well as the evacuation having a significant financial and social cost for residents, as the levees were not overtopped it also increases future risk of people not evacuating when ordered. In 2011 Council completed a detailed flood levee overtopping study which included extensive 2-D computer modelling. The flood levee overtopping study is considered to have given excellent value for money as in 2013 it enabled evacuation to be confined to the immediate affected area.

A significant human cost of flooding on all residents is post flood clean-up. To reduce the impact on residents Council generally collects flood damaged items which are put on the kerbside by residents, waives its tip fees for disposal of flood damaged items and also offers residents affected by flood mud a rebate on their water bills. Council also assisted with the provision of the Flood Recovery Centre for residents, which provided a “one stop shop” for flood impacted residents.

A significant issue for Council is the increasingly limited and narrow interpretation of Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA), which have left the full cost of much essential infrastructure flood damage repair with Council.

As one example, a flood levee damaged in the 2013 flood incurred repair costs of $710,000 but only $98,625 funding was received for this item. The apparent basis for the reduced funding was that under the NDRRA the works were assessed as “riverbank” works; notwithstanding that detailed geotechnical and engineering reports supported Council’s position that the riverbank formed an integral part of the levee at this location and should therefore have qualified as essential public infrastructure. It is requested that as part of this item of the terms of reference the committee consider the NDRRA arrangements as the current interpretation results in cost shifting of repairs to essential public infrastructure to Council.

There are financial and human costs of flooding beyond Council’s costs. Financial costs are common for industries such as agricultural, transport and tourism. The financial impacts on these industries has been repeatedly mentioned after the three recent major flood experiences in the Clarence Valley in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Agricultural financial impacts are usually associated with the loss of crops, livestock, fences, machinery, etc. Transport impacts are associated with the closure of key transport routes resulting in the very long truck ‘parking’ areas either side of locations such as Grafton. The tourism industry impacts are both short-term (cancellations of bookings) and longer term with potential of a tarnished tourism image. Regarding human costs, a recurring theme in the post flood recovery mental health problems related to flooding. The NSW State Government established Clarence Valley Flood Recovery Committees after the 2009 and 2013 floods which comprised representatives from state government agencies and Council, and the final reports from these Committees should assist the Inquiry with further information on the financial and human cost of flooding.

1e) examine technologies available to mitigate flood damage, including diversion systems, and the scope of infrastructure needed to support water augmentation, by diversion, for rural and regional New South Wales. The diversion of the Clarence to west of the Great Dividing Range has been suggested by some people as a possible way that flood damage could be mitigated, with a supposed benefit of providing water for western areas. Council has considered this issue and its position has consistently been that diversion of the Clarence is opposed, as summarised by Council resolution 10.017/10 at its meeting of 16 November 2010:
The Council again register it strong opposition to any plans to divert waters out of the Clarence catchment.

Council’s position in this matter has not changed, and Council considers that any proposal to divert the Clarence River cannot be justified from an economic, environmental or social perspective.

If you require further information please contact Council’s Manager Water Cycle, Mr Greg Mashiah, telephone 6645-0244 or 0428-112-982.

Yours faithfully

Scott Greensill 
General Manager

The assault on the water security of NSW coastal rivers is not just head on. Murray-Darling Basin councils are also now lobbying to change the federal Water Act so that more weight is given to their social and economic arguments when freshwater augmentation or inter-basin water transfer is considered.

Naranderra Shire Council, Committee Minutes, 21 June 2016:

Item 6.1 - Final Report of the Commonwealth Senate Select Committee into the Murray Darling Basin Plan
The Final Report titled “Refreshing the Plan” was tabled in the Senate on 17th March 2016 and is currently the subject of review through the Minister for Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP and the Departmental Officials, with a response due by mid June 2016.
RESOLVED that RAMROC continue to strongly advocate to the Commonwealth Government the merit and value of the recommendations contained in the Final Report of the Senate Select Committee into the Murray Darling Basin Plan, particularly Recommendation 25 relating to proposed amendments to the Water Act 2007 to provide for a triple bottom line equal balance of environmental, social, and economic outcomes. (Moved Albury and seconded Hay)

Now that local governments in the Murray-Darling Basin are again discussing raiding Clarence Valley fresh water, it is worthwhile remembering 2007......

The Daily Examiner
, 23 April 2007:

Clarence River Professional Fishermen's Association
STORM clouds continue to gather over the Clarence River, but sadly they are the type that threaten its ruin rather than rain.
In comments reported in The Daily Examiner on Tuesday, federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull made it very clear the Howard Government was now virtually committed to the diversion of water from northern NSW into Queensland.
Alluding to the imminent release of results from his feasibility study into such a concept, Mr Turnbull also said a water diversion from NSW would be far cheaper than one from anywhere in Queensland.
Why is he saying that? Because he already knows the outcome of the study and is simply being too cute by half in playing politics with its release and treating us all like little mushrooms.
No surprise there as he hasn't even bothered to speak to any of the tens of thousands of NSW residents who will be directly affected by his fool hardy scheme.
The National Water Commission (NWC) has confirmed this week a desk top study by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) will show it is technically feasible to divert water from both the Clarence and the Tweed rivers into Queensland.
Commissioned by Mr Turnbull and due to be released in the coming weeks, an early draft of the SMEC report has ruled the Clarence and Tweed rivers in as potential diversion candidates, while rejecting the Richmond River.
The outcomes of the SMEC study are focused on engineering feasibility and costs, including constructing dams and other infrastructure and derived from a review of existing information and previous studies.
As we have feared all along, this study has been commissioned for the express political purpose of giving Mr Turnbull's grand act of environmental vandalism economic credibility.
The report estimates up to 100,000 mega litres ? roughly enough water to fill Sydney Harbour twice ? per year could be harvested from the Clarence at a cost of between $1.60 and $2.05 per kilolitre, giving a total supply cost of around $160million to $200million. Mr Turnbull knows all this already.
In his Droplets newsletter, Mike Young, of the University of Adelaide, suggests on average Murray Darling system high security water allocations ? which can include municipal, industrial and irrigation uses ? cost around $1,500/ML, which is just below the SMEC report lower estimate of supply costs for water diverted from the Clarence.
This would seem to put the whole diversion concept very much in the ballpark from a cost and feasibility standpoint and should shake us all out of any complacency stemming from misguided and outdated misconceptions that it's all just too expensive and too difficult.
Add to that the growing willingness of the states to cede powers to the Australian government and this nightmare starts to look very much more like a frightening reality.
Figures like that also give added credence to the growing concerns of state premiers regarding who will ultimately have their hands on the Australian water cash register as it rings up billions of dollars of water allocations into the future.
Just how high might the selling price of water go and just who exactly stands to pocket the wealth generated off the back of the Clarence River being plundered for profit, like the Murray, the Darling, the Snowy and so many other great river systems before it?
Make no mistake, this proposal is as much about money and profits as it is about any notion of pulling together for the national good.
As a community and as responsible Australians are we really prepared to stand by and see the ecology of the Clarence River and the vital industries and unparalleled quality of life that it underpins sold off to the highest bidder?
I sincerely hope we are made of better stuff than that and can look back in years to come and say with pride that we saw through all the politics and fought hard to save the magnificent Clarence River.

The Daily Examiner, 5 June 2007:

Renee Ford

TWO prominent Clarence Valley leaders made their voices heard yesterday, giving submissions opposing any damming or diversion to the Clarence River at an inquiry into water supplies for south-east Queensland.
Clarence River Professional Fishermen's Association industry representative, John McGuren told the Senate Standing Committee a dam in the upper reaches of the Clarence would adversely affect the fishing industry, which he described as the 'engine room of the Clarence Valley'.
"Numerous studies have clearly shown the positive correlation between water flows and catches of key commercial and recreational species, both estuarine and ocean," he told the inquiry. "These relationships don't just exist in the river themselves."
He explained productivity of Australian fisheries was heavily reliant on the terrestrial nutrients delivered by large rivers such as the Clarence.
"It's a key driver to fisheries productivity generally up and down the East Coast," he said.
By overlaying data Mr McGuren was able to illustrate a strong correlation existed between critical environmental flows and Clarence River school prawn catches.
"It's not the percentage of overall total flows to be removed that is the critical factor here, and it is misleading to describe any flow extraction and its potential impacts in these matters," he said.
Clarence Valley Landcare chair, Brian Dodd told the inquiry via teleconference, the upper reaches of the Clarence River were experiencing drought, much like south-east Queensland and Western NSW.
"Damming just doesn't work.
It's been proven around the world, that if you build large dams on streams, it always causes more problems than what they are worth," Mr Dodd said. During the next two days, the NSW Annual Shires Association conference will debate two motions put forward by Western Divisions supporting the diversion of the Clarence River catchments to western NSW.
Clarence Valley mayor Ian Tiley and general manager Stuart McPherson are attending the conference and hope to gain support to squash both proposals put forward by Cobar and Bourke Shire Councils.

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