Locals leak bottle worries
Councils and concerned residents are coming together to stop their groundwater being extracted and bottled.
A forum in Beechworth in Victoria’s north-east has seen over 100 regional residents raise their concerns about the bottled water industry’s impact on aquifers, agriculture, the environment, and even local road infrastructure.
The Indigo, Alpine, and Towong Councils have formed an alliance that will push for a planning scheme change to give them more control over groundwater extraction.
Extraction license-holders must adhere to general conditions and limits including daily extraction volume, flow rate, metering, location, and purpose of use.
But the council group has proposed amendments that seek to reduce and mitigate the effects of groundwater extraction and bottling, such as dust, noise, traffic impact and visual impacts.
Groundwater extraction is a lawful activity under Victoria's Water Act, but Indigo mayor Jenny O'Connor says it is not necessarily a positive industry.
“The water should be kept at its source for agriculture and community use, instead of being trucked miles away and used to fill water bottles for drinking,” she said.
While water extraction has been occurring in the Alpine Shire council area for nearly a decade, local mayor Ron Janas says new plans to expand the industry have prompted community concern.
“I think we're seeing more applicants who potentially want to do some water mining on their properties, and it is a growing industry, it's a very lucrative industry, and we don't have sufficient planning powers in place to cope with that,” Cr Janas said.
Residents in the nearby Towong region are worried too.
“We haven't got any water mining in Towong at the moment but there's obviously great potential for that to happen in the future, and that's why we’re going down [this] track,” Towong mayor Aaron Scales, said.
The councils want residents to lobby their state representatives to push for legislative change in the water extraction industry.
The owner of water extraction company Black Mount Spring Water, Tim Carey, fielded questions from angry residents at the Beechworth forum, but said he actually supports the councils' push for the planning amendments.
Mr Carey said it could be a good idea, even though he doe not believe the industry poses a threat to the area in the future.
“In general I think it's quite a good idea to have a planning framework for these ground water extraction sites. It's just got to be fair and logical,” he said.
“In the three shires, I'd be surprised if there were more than one of two applications that go in over the next 10 years because there's simply not the demand for new extraction sites.
“I think they're trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist.”