O'Farrell forced to backdown over plan to use Hawkesbury River as a toilet

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The O'Farrell Government has been forced to backdown over its cost cutting plan to increase the amount of effluent Sydney Water releases into the Hawkesbury River, Shadow Minister for Water, Luke Foley said today.

Mr Foley and Hornsby Mayor, Nick Berman today joined with local residents to celebrate the O'Farrell Government's backdown – after months of campaigning against the unprecedented cost cutting proposal.

Explosive government documents reveal the O'Farrell Government was aware the cost cutting plan would have a devastating impact on the Hawkesbury River – but chose not to act until it came under pressure from the Opposition, Hornsby Council, local residents and oyster farmers.

"The O'Farrell Government knew its plan to increase the effluent dumped into the Hawkesbury River would be devastating but pushed ahead with it anyway. The Finance Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming into this backdown," Mr Foley said.

"Under Sydney Water's plan, an extra 3.9 tonnes of nitrogen and 2.1 tonnes of phosphorus would have been discharged into the Hawkesbury River each year.

"Sydney Water was only forced into this cost cutting proposal because the O'Farrell Government is slashing its operating costs, forecasting a 78 per cent boost to profits and gouging out record dividends.

"A filter could have been installed to keep nutrient discharge levels inside current limits at a cost of around $1 million; however Sydney Water – under pressure from the government to cut costs - originally claimed this was too expensive.

"The Environment Protection Authority had already warned these nutrient increases would have a devastating impact on the health of the river and local industry. It's clear this is a government willing to put cost cutting above the health of the Hawkesbury River."

Mr Foley also released an Office of Environment and Heritage and Environment Protection Authority submission to IPART on Sydney Water prices, which warned increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorus would:

Increase toxic algal blooms which are likely to create health risks;

  • Clog irrigation pipes due to weed fouling;
  • Force a decline in commercial fishing species;
  • Increase the need for weed harvesting and chemical control;
  • Reduce access to the river for humans and livestock; and
  • Reduce opportunities for recreational swimming, water skiing and boating.

Submissions to the Department of Planning on Sydney Water's application to increase the effluent it releases into the Hawkesbury River:

From the Office of Environment and Heritage:

"Approval of the proposed higher limits would result in the order of an additional 2.1 tonnes of total phosphorus and 3.9 tonnes of total nitrogen being discharged into the estuary each year."

From the Department of Primary Industries:

"The proposal has the potential to undermine broader government policy objectives aimed at reducing nutrient inputs into the Hawkesbury-Nepean Rivers."

From the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean:

"The modelling does not appear to have considered the water quality characteristics of the estuary into which the treated effluent is discharged, when predicting the impacts of the proposed modification."

From the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority:

"The environmental benefits of the works to reduce nutrient loads could be undermined by an increase in pollution loads from the sewerage treatment plant. This may result in a perverse outcome to the river and the industries that depend on it."