Dear Beagle Editor, Your southern readers in Akolele, Wallaga Lake and Bermagui might be interested in our latest media release concerning Bega Shire drinking water. on “troubled waters” …
It would be easy to have some sympathy for Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) over the misleading & alarmist claims about drinking water contamination aired by the ABC earlier this month.
Council itself published a Media Release rejecting suggestions that “boiled water notices” had been issued in response to incidents of water contamination when, in fact, the notices had been issued as a “precautionary measure”.
Of course, while the ABC news might be “fake news”, it’s not “new news”, with the challenge of improving the quality of the shire’s water supplies having been the topic of noisy debate for years. The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) has made comment on the issue at least twice this year (see Water Works & Bega Valley Shire Water Supply), while the ABC has also addressed the issue on at least two occasions.
While council has acknowledged that there are “water quality issues”, it is has insisted that there are no genuine “public safety issues” with the shire’s drinking water supplies. This while it is currently spending $2M of ratepayers funds installing a water filtration plant on the shire’s most at risk supply system in Bemboka, although it currently has no plans to address the installation of such systems on the Tantawanglo-Kiah, Brogo-Bermagui or Bega-Tathra water supplies this side of 2025, simply due to the staggering $30M+ estimated cost involved.
Speaking on behalf of council along the way, Cr McBain has succeeded only in adding to confusion around the issue.
When asked by the ABC about plans to improve the quality of the shire’s water supplies back in February, she confirmed that “it’s not something that we’re currently pursuing”.
Then in May, after acknowledging that the shire’s water “isn’t of a quality you’d expect to see in a country like Australia”, she went on to claim that council “was strongly advocating for assistance” to address the issue & had just had discussions with the state government’s Regional Infrastructure Coordinator “to get some regional infrastructure money”.
Cr McBain again demonstrated her concern for the welfare of the local community when she acknowledged that it is “never a good look to issue a boiled water notice when we’re in a high tourist area”, before suggesting that council is now seeking to fund the required water filtration systems via the state governments new $1billion “Safe & Secure Regional Water Fund”.
While council can downplay the water quality issue as much as it likes, the reality is that it would not even bother to speculate about the need to spend more than $30M on water filtration systems for the shire & nor would it be currently spending $2M on the installation of water filtration equipment on the Bemboka supply, unless there was a real water quality risk to contend with.
Meanwhile, council can talk as often & for as long as it likes to the Regional Infrastructure Coordinator about trying to secure funding for the upgrading of the shire’s water systems, but it will make no difference, as he simply has no role to play in such matters.
As far as access to the state government’s Safe & Secure Regional Water Fund is concerned, the BVSRRA understands that it is a “co-funded” grants program”, which means that water & sewerage service providers such as council would have to contribute 75% of the project cost, which would be at least $25M in the case of the planned water filtration systems.
Sadly it’s just more “smoke & mirrors” from a council which is more concerned with appearance than substance, whether it is advocating for underground power lines, championing the development of a bigger & better art gallery, yet more “learning hubs”, expanding the airport in the hope that the shire will be overrun by tourists or glad-handing developers, the one thing council doesn’t do much is improve basic infrastructure.
The BVSRRA believes that as long as the community is willing to put up with a lack of basic infrastructure, such as quality drinking water, adequate sewage management infrastructure, adequate & properly maintained roads & adequate technology services, there will be little real improvement in the quality of life in regional Australia.
Unfortunately, until such time as regional Australia demands that governments at all levels make a genuine commitment to creating the same standards of basic infrastructure in regional Australia as they do for Sydney & Melbourne, nothing much will change.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association