Mayors say more funding needed for water woes

Country Mayors Association chair, Ballina mayor Phillip Silver, says its crucial to find more ways to re-use water so rural towns arent left high and dry in the future, and hes now calling for national funding to help ease regional water woes.

Cr Silver said state funding was inadequate and local communities could not afford to upgrade their infrastructure. The mayors want new schemes and upgrades to be funded equally between the three tiers of government similar to funding for flood levees.

He said at last Fridays Country Mayors Association meeting in Sydney, he heard many cases of inadequate water supply, antiquated and failing septic sewerage systems and waste of potentially valuable water resources all because of a failure to properly invest in water infrastructure.

We cant afford to dam rainwater, use it once, and then pump it out of a sewage treatment plant and into the ocean, Cr Silver said.

In Singapore they pump highly treated sewage effluent directly into the reservoirs. However, the recent referendum in Toowoomba showed the community was a long way off accepting recycled water for drinking, he said. But it should be used as a replacement for potable water wherever possible and the mayors are calling for greater government subsidies for councils that construct dual reticulation systems.

Its a sentiment that Dr Richard Gates from Evans Head is right behind. He has long been calling for the re-use of sewage effluent in Evans Head instead of Richmond Valley Councils current plans to discharge it into the Evans River. He is not only against polluting the river, but also the waste of a future precious resource.

It amazes me that we are buying drinking water, using only a tiny portion for actual drinking and the rest for toilets and gardens, he said.

Councils director of works, Gary Murphy, said they had investigated dual reticulation for Evans Head, which involved a much higher level of sewage treatment to a point where effluent could be used to wash clothes. He said it would add $10 million to the Evans Head sewage treatment plant upgrade, which was not viable. However, if Council was given the money tomorrow, they would do it.

It still rains too much on the North Coast, he said. At some point in the future water will be worth a lot more money and all of a sudden these things will become more viable. In previous councils Ive worked at, water was such a valuable commodity that despite the extra cost, we were re-using 100 per cent of our water. Most of the towns on the other side of the range have been using effluent to irrigate for years.

Dr Gates said Richmond Valley Council didnt have enough money for the huge backlog of sewage works in Coraki, Casino, Broadwater and Woodburn.

He said it was one of the poorest councils on the North Coast and would never be able to afford all the necessary works. He suggested instead of building more plants, councils should look at ways to manage water sustainably and force developers to pay more for the burden they placed on local water and sewage systems, rather than relying on ratepayers to foot the ever-increasing bills.

He applauded the Country Mayors Association for having the foresight to campaign for more funding.

A nation that does not look after its water supply is doomed to failure, he said.

However, Cr Silvers plea for federal funding wasnt supported by Page MP Ian Causley, who said water and sewage were state responsibilities.

This is what happens when youve got a state government thats broke, he said. The bottom line is its not a federal responsibility. For goodness sakes, if they cant fund their own affairs then maybe we should get rid of the states. If every time they want something funded they come to the federal government then tell them to resign and well take over.

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