Cold water poured on pipeline dreams

The water debate has picked up a lot of steam since the federal government floated a plan to look into piping water from Northern Rivers to south-east Queensland to address widespread shortages there.

The issue has surfaced as a priority for public discussion, particularly on the North Coast, since Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Malcolm Turnbull, announced a feasibility study to look into building a pipeline from NSW to Queensland.

The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation is due to report to the National Water Commission later this month on whether there is enough water in the Northern Rivers catchments to share with our neighbours in Queensland.

But the plan has been roundly condemned by politicians, civic leaders and others on the North Coast.

However, Page MP Ian Causley, a former NSW Minister for Water who is set to retire from politics later this year, is not opposed to the feasibility study as such, but doubts whether pumping water a great distance will work.

Water doesnt just belong to the people of the Clarence or the Tweed or the Richmond it belongs to the people of Australia... just because there is a border at Tweed Heads doesnt mean we are not the same people. We should at least be prepared to examine this, Mr Causley said.

He was echoing Prime Minister John Howard, who slammed NSW Premier Morris Iemmas opposition to the plan, saying the water belonged to Australia, not NSW.

Mr Howard called on the states to put their parochialism aside and co-operate with the Commonwealth to address the nations water shortage.

His comments came after Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said control of Australias major rivers should be handed to the Commonwealth because the states had failed to manage water properly.

The Nationals MP for Clarence, Steve Cansdell, is strongly opposed to any plan which takes water away from the Northern Rivers and has vowed to join his political foes, Labor and the Greens, to fight such a pipeline.

You start to wonder whether its a backdoor way for the federal government to get their hands on the water and do what they want with it, Mr Cansdell said.

The Nationals MP for Lismore, Thomas George, is also vehemently opposed to the plan, saying he had no interest in it at all.

The study is being undertaken and I had no say in that, but as far as supporting a shift of water to Queensland Im against it, he said.

Mr George said the government should improve water storage by building extra dams and encourage people to be more water wise, offering incentives such as rebates for people to install their own water tanks.

Ballina MP Don Page said it would make more sense to build water-storage infrastructure such as dams closer to Brisbane where there was greater demand, rather than call on the Northern Rivers to help out with extra infrastructure.

We need it (new infrastructure) ourselves to keep up with the rapid population growth now and in the future, he said. Our capacity is pretty limited to one years consumption so we need the extra storage capacity ourselves, and even if we were of the mind to help them now, we certainly couldnt do it with existing infrastructure.

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