The Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer has issued its final report from a review into the bottled water industry on northern New South Wales groundwater resources.
The Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer has issued its final report from a review into the bottled water industry on northern New South Wales groundwater resources.

What an expert’s review into bottled water industry found

CLIMATE change considerations should be incorporated into the way groundwater extraction is approached on the Northern Rivers, a report from the Chief Scientist has found.

The office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, has handed down the final report from an independent review into the impacts of the bottled water industry on groundwater resources in the region.

The review identified seven operators on the Northern Rivers that have been “actively extracting for water bottling purposes”.

According to the report, those operators represent just 0.55 per cent of water extraction allowances – comprised of water licences and basic landholder rights – and make up 0.008 per cent of the estimated total aquifer recharge for the region.

Four further proposals would extract a further 168 megalitres a year, which would account for 0.006 per cent of the region’s total annual aquifer recharge.

Analyses conducted by the review found Australia’s bottled water industry “is most likely to grow at a rate of less than 2 per cent per annum to 2024”, comparable to predicted growth locally.

Looking as far ahead as 2024, the review found that “under most scenarios … the 168 megalitres of additional proposed bottled water operations would be sufficient to meet fully projected growth in demand”.

Under the North Coast Fractured and Porous Rock Water Sharing Plan, a proportion of the “estimated recharge value” from groundwater sources is reserved for the environment.

This environmental proportion sits at 82 per cent for the Alstonville Basalt Plateau, and the remaining allocation for this source to be extracted and used for any purpose is “fully allocated”, the report said.

A development application before Ballina Shire Council, which sought to increase an existing 62ML a year bore to 100ML at a Rous property, was withdrawn before the report was finalised.

Groundwater conserved for the environment makes up 97 per cent in the New England Fold Belt Coast, 96 per cent for North Coast Volcanics and 48 per cent for the Clarence Moreton Basin.

Of the balance of water allocated for use, those sources have 39, 51.3 and 1.7 per cent respectively available for allocation for licenced purposes.

The report’s first recommendation was that further work be undertaken “to incorporate climate change into the development of recharge estimates for the Water Sharing Plan”.

Among other recommendations were “robust local hydrogeological assessments of aquifer connectivity with overlying shallow groundwater and surface water” and “accessible portals” for water extraction and monitoring data.



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