Councillors approve free water offer for Bathurst region farmers

SUPPORT: Councillor Jess Jennings (right), pictured with NSW Farmers Association Bathurst branch president David McKay, was the driving force behind the free water offer. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK
SUPPORT: Councillor Jess Jennings (right), pictured with NSW Farmers Association Bathurst branch president David McKay, was the driving force behind the free water offer. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

ELIGIBLE primary producers will be able to access up to 20,000 litres of free water a week from the Hereford Street standpipes under a plan now on public exhibition.

Councillors voted on Wednesday night to reject the advice of senior staff who had warned against the free water offer.

Bathurst Regional Council had previously halved the price of water from $5 a kilolitre to $2.50 for all buyers, while Councillor Jess Jennings had proposed the free water offer for “verified primary producers”.

When the item came before council on Wednesday, Cr Jennings proposed limiting the offer to 20 kilolitres a week (non-accumulative) and making the offer available only to Bathurst ratepayers who own a farmland-rated parcel of land, are registered primary producers and hold a current Property Identification Code.

He said it was a “small but effective” way council could support farmers during the continuing drought.

“This should not go to hobby farmers or lifestyle blocks whose primary income does not come from the farm they live on,” Cr Jennings said.

“The cost of cartage will still fall to the farmer so they will have to have a pretty good incentive to go and access this free water.”

Cr Warren Aubin supported the proposal, saying any support council could offer farmers that would help them avoid destocking would benefit the whole community.

“If they’re forced to destock their farms it will be a long time before our farmers have money to spend in town again,” he said.

The free water proposal will now go on public exhibition for 28 days.

Under the conditions proposed by Cr Jennings, council would cease its free water offer if Ben Chifley Dam was to fall to 40 per cent capacity; if a drought declaration for the Bathurst region was lifted; or four moths after the start of the scheme.

Council staff have not been able to estimate what the free water scheme would cost ratepayers because they cannot predict how many farmers will take up the offer.