Liberals should abandon plan to scrap Sydney Catchment Authority

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Monday, 2 June 2014

The Labor Opposition has called on the Baird Liberal Government to abandon its scheme to abolish the Sydney Catchment Authority, following the NSW Chief Scientist’s call for an increased focus on protecting Sydney’s drinking water.

A new report on the cumulative impact of mining and coal seam gas activities on Sydney’s water catchments, prepared by NSW Chief Scientist Professor Mary O’Kane, highlights the need to protect Sydney’s water supply.

The Chief Scientist’s recommendations include: 

  • creating an environmental monitoring system and data repository for the whole Sydney Catchment; and
  • establishing an expert group to provide ongoing advice on cumulative impacts in the Sydney Catchment.

But in March, the Liberal Government announced plans to merge the Sydney Catchment Authority with the rural State Water Corporation – replacing them with a new organisation to be known as Bulk Water NSW.

“The entire thrust of the NSW Chief Scientist’s report is to sharpen our focus on the Sydney Water Catchment in order to protect Sydney’s water supply,” said Shadow Minister for the Environment Luke Foley.

“It’s a wonder how the recommendations will be implemented if, at the same time, the government is moving to get rid of the very agency to implement those recommendations.

“The McLennan Inquiry, following the cryptosporidium and giardia contamination, found that management of Sydney’s catchments was inadequate and required a specialised agency – which led the Carr Labor Government to establish the Sydney Catchment Authority in 1998.

“Now the Liberal Government is winding back the clock – and is leaving little room for the Chief Scientist’s recommendations to be implemented,” Mr Foley said.

Shadow Minister for Water Peter Primrose said the Liberal Government’s abolition of a standalone authority to protect Sydney’s drinking water is at odds with the Chief Scientist’s approach.

“Many of the major dams, reservoirs and canals used for drinking water supply are surrounded by ‘Special Areas’ established under the Sydney Water Catchment Management Act 1998, within which certain types of activity and access are restricted.

“These Special Areas create a buffer zone from human activity to reduce the risks from contamination and protect Sydney’s drinking water – but the same level of focus on Sydney’s drinking water catchment will not be maintained in a new agency with state wide responsibilities.

“Now is not the time for the Liberals to walk away from a commitment to the highest quality drinking water for the people of Sydney, the Illawarra and Blue Mountains,” Mr Primrose said.