Protesters take fight about water sell-off to Bathurst Regional Council

WATER MUSIC: Opponents of the proposed water sale to Regis Resources gathered outside the Bathurst Regional Council chambers before Wednesday night's meeting, holding protest banners and singing their new song, Spirit of the River. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK	 021716criver1
WATER MUSIC: Opponents of the proposed water sale to Regis Resources gathered outside the Bathurst Regional Council chambers before Wednesday night's meeting, holding protest banners and singing their new song, Spirit of the River. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK 021716criver1

REGIS Resources has committed to completing further environmental studies and working with the community as it seeks to buy the Bathurst region’s treated effluent to operate a planned gold mine near Blayney.

The public gallery was filled to overflowing on Wednesday night as Bathurst Regional Council met to decide its next step in the contentious process.

More than 20 members of the public spoke out strongly against the proposed sale while just four – Regis development manager Rod Smith, Bathurst Business Chamber president Stacey Whittaker, former mayor Bruce Bolam and Bathurst businessman Steve Simmons – spoke in support of the sale.

Regis Resources is seeking to buy between eight and 10 megalitres of treated effluent a day, currently the daily output from the Bathurst Waste Water Treatment Plant back into the Macquarie River.

As council heard on Wednesday night, though, that is also equal to about half the daily water usage of the whole Bathurst region – a city of 41,000 people.

In the end, councillors voted to defer a decision on the matter until Regis prepares an environmental impact statement to support its bid, along with further modelling of the impacts of the sale on river flows.

Councillors also added two amendments to general manager David Sherley’s original recommendation in response to concerns raised by members of the public gallery.

The first states plainly that the council is yet to make a decision on Regis’ bid to buy the city’s treated effluent and the second commits the council to returning to the public with the information provided in an EIS before making a decision on the sale.

Just one councillor, Monica Morse, voted against deferring a decision, instead arguing that councillors knew enough already to say no to the sale.

Cr Morse detailed the importance of the Macquarie River in Bathurst’s history, saying it was no coincidence Governor Lachlan Macquarie started Australia’s first inland settlement on the banks of the river in 1815.

She also spoke about the impact the development of a local sewerage system had on the development of Bathurst in the early 1900s and said the city had been returning treated effluent to the Macquarie since 1915.

“If we don’t put our water back into the Macquarie River we are declining flows in the Macquarie by 10 megalitres a day, which is the same as taking water out of the river,” Cr Morse said. “Do we really have the right to remove that water? Is it ours to sell?

“Surely we have a responsibility to others down the river.”

Cr Morse also noted opposition to the sale by the local Wiradyuri people and urged council to listen to the elders.

“This council, having fostered a close relationship with the Wiradyuri people, should not just disregard their views when we don’t like what they’re saying,” she said.

Cr Jess Jennings was among those who supported the deferral, though, saying the information currently before councillors was hopelessly lacking in detail.

He pointed to a lack of climate change information as one example of the need for more data before councillors made a decision on the sale.

“I didn’t get onto Bathurst Regional Council to make half-arsed decisions, particularly big half-arsed decisions,” Cr Jennings said.

“We are not in a position to make an informed decision at this stage.

“The lack of information provided to us is quite shocking and to make a final decision under these conditions would be irresponsible.”

Deputy mayor Ian North said councillors needed the right information to make a decision in the best interests of Bathurst.

“We have to understand that Bathurst is open for business because we have become the premier regional area in NSW and Australia through being entrepreneurial and because we have cared for the environment,” he said.

“There has been a lot of information and passion on this issue but people have to listen to everyone’s views.”