Bathurst councillors to vote on free water for farmers proposal

FREE WATER: Deputy mayor Bobby Bourke at the Hereford Street standpipe. Photo: SUPPLIED

FREE WATER: Deputy mayor Bobby Bourke at the Hereford Street standpipe. Photo: SUPPLIED

ELIGIBLE farmers will be entitled to 20 kilolitres of free water a week from the Hereford Street standpipes after councillors gave the final seal of approval on Wednesday night.

Councillor Jess Jennings first proposed the scheme in June as a way Bathurst Regional Council could support the region’s farmers who were battling an ongoing drought.

He said the water should be made available to local farmers for both stock and domestic use.

Council first halved the price of water from the standpipes to $2.50 a kilolitre to provide some immediate relief but the plan to make water free to farmers had to go through a full public consultation process.

A report to councillors by corporate services and finance director Aaron Jones said there were 12 submissions received during the public exhibition period, with nine in favour of the plan and three against.

Submissions opposed to the free water plan raised concerns including the impact on residents in surrounding villages who needed to cart water for domestic use; the potential for the water to be on-sold on a “black market”; the inequity of farming businesses being given a council handout that would not be available to other local businesses; and the impact on the water level at Ben Chifley Dam.

Another concern is the virtual blank cheque councillors could be signing, with Mr Jones conceding in his report that the cost of the scheme weras “very difficult to estimate”.

“Council has approximately 1450 properties rated as farmland, however, the take-up rate and length of time until the drought declaration is lifted are completely unknown factors,” the report states.

“Bulk water sales are estimated at $30,000 for the 2017-2018 year.

“The effect of half-price sales that has already been provided for means the loss of at least $15,000 in revenue, however, the increased usage also means council’s operating costs will also increase markedly, as well as faster depletion of the dam water.”

The proposal to go to council includes a number of conditions, including the criteria for eligible recipients.

Landholders will have to apply to council to receive a pass card to access the free water.

Applicants will need to produce proof of residency within the Bathurst local government area, along with proof that they own a farmland rated parcel of land.

Applicants must also provide a Property Identification Code from Local Land Services.

The free water allocation will be limited to 20 kilolitres of water a week per rate notice, to be reviewed regularly based on Ben Chifley Dam levels.

The water must be used for stock and domestic purposes only, and cannot be on-sold. Landholders will have to meet the cost of cartage from the standpipes.

The free water scheme will end when, either, Ben Chifley Dam reaches a capacity of 40 per cent or lower, a drought declaration is lifted for the Bathurst LGA, or four months after the scheme begins.

Sign up for our free morning headlines email