Councils have strongly rejected the findings on Local Water Utilities (LWU) in the National Water Commission’s recently released Urban Water in Australia: Future Directions 2011 report.


The report’s section on LWU alleges that public health, the environment and basic levels of service in regional and rural areas are at risk from inadequate processes, skills shortages and poor pricing policies. It recommends structural changes to LWUs in rural and regional NSW.


Shires’ Association president, Bruce Miller, says the Local Government and Shires’ Associations (LGSA) challenge the report’s findings on LWUs and objects to the way the report has been prepared and the lack of consultation.


“The National Water Commission has conveniently ignored objective New South Wales performance data showing the strong performance of LWUs in NSW and solid improvements in quality, productivity and water security that have been made by this sector in the past decade,” says Cr Miller.


“The report appears to rely heavily and almost exclusively on a report on LWUs in regional NSW produced by AECOM for Infrastructure Australia earlier this year that was already shown to contain significant shortcomings and that was universally rejected in NSW,” he says.


“The report findings do not accurately represent the situation relating to drinking water quality, operator training, water pricing and full cost recovery and water security in non-metropolitan NSW.


“It’s the outcomes that count. Ninety-six per cent of LWUs in NSW are achieving full cost recovery for water supply and 99 per cent of the population in rural and regional NSW are receiving high-quality drinking water.


“Local government is responsible for water and sewerage services outside the Sydney and Hunter regions of NSW. The Commission has not bothered asking councils our opinions."


“The (LGSA) call on the National Water Commission to retract their findings and start again, undertaking comprehensive research on local water utilities in NSW.


“We are calling on (federal) Minister, Tony Burke, and Parliamentary Secretary, Don Farrell, to reject the report, and request that they consult with councils and the relevant NSW Government agencies before acting on it. We’re also calling on the NSW Government to immediately reject this report,” says Cr Miller.


Local Government Association president, Keith Rhoades, says it is widely acknowledged that councils are consistently delivering best-practice water management and the 106 Local Water Utilities in NSW are well placed to manage water supplies and sewerage.


“The Commission’s report threatens to derail the comprehensive and all but concluded LWU review process that has been underway in NSW with the State Government since 2007,” says Cr Rhoades.


“The LGSA have proposed a regional alliance model that would deliver ongoing improvements in water security and quality standards through the sharing of resources.


“It just makes sense for councils to continue to handle water management – we’re performing at best practice levels, we know what local priorities are and we can provide a whole-of community approach to water management – something that other agencies are not in a position to do.”