A RECOMMENDATION from senior council staff that local landholders not be provided free water is unlikely to be the end of this story.
A report to go before next Wednesday’s Bathurst Regional Council meeting suggests there are too many questions that remain unanswered for the request to be approved at this stage.
Among the valid concerns raised by corporate services and finance director Aaron Jones are issues surrounding the potential on-selling of “free” water; whether the amount of water made available to each property should be capped, and just what that limit should be; who should have access to the free water, and what proof would they need to supply to determine their primary producer status; and for how long should the free water be made available.
Given the proposal was first raised by Councillor Jess Jennings just last week, though, it should not be a surprise that these concerns still exist. But that’s not to say they can’t be worked through.
Few would be surprised if a majority of councillors at next week’s meeting voted to reject the advice of Mr Jones and push ahead with the free water anyway.
There would need to be a strict framework put in place to allow the smooth running of the program, and no doubt Mr Jones’ concerns would be used as the basis for those rules.
But the reality is, Cr Jennings is not asking for much from council – not in dollar terms, at least.
Mr Jones’ report concedes it is hard to say how much this plan would cost council but it does state that 7832 kilolitres of water passed through the standpipes in 2016-17, rising to 11,291 kilolitres (up jump of 44 per cent so far) with just a few weeks to go in 2017-18.
In 2017-18, council made about $30,000 in bulk water sales – though not all buyers were primary producers and not all would be entitled to the proposed price waiver.
Even if water usage doubles in the coming year, it’s hard to see the cost to council rising past $50,000 or so – a drop in the ocean compared with council’s overall budget.
Perhaps more concerning is the environmental impact, with Mr Jones warning the provision of free water might increase the rate of depletion for the Ben Chifley Dam level.
It will make for an interesting debate come Wednesday.