Verge of a water crisis?

LOCAL farmer Bruce Robertson believes the Manning Valley may be in the verge of a water crisis.

Over the past couple of years Bruce has become a well known local identity. He is the former analyst turned Burrell Creek farmer who played an integral role in the successful campaign to stop a major transmission power line in the Manning Valley. During that campaign Bruce fought to save his farm and used his analytical skills to uncover some alarming facts. Initially dismissed as a simple farmer by the larger organisations Bruce became a thorn in their side and a local hero. 

Recently Bruce has been crunching the numbers again. This time he has joined forces with Mark Anning to question the amount of water needed for the AGL coal seam gas operations at Gloucester. Bruce is alarmed by the results of the water study and is concerned that increased water usage could leave the valley dry. 

In a statement issued by Bruce he suggests that AGL is set to become a major new water user in the valley. He said that river flows will diminish as AGL removes ground water to extract the gas. Bruce believes that AGL will increase its water usage dramatically over the next few years and will impede Mid Coast Water's ability to supply its customers. 

MidCoast Water said such a statement was misleading and AGL does not consider the report produced by Bruce and Mark to be credible. We were told that AGL hydrogeology experts do not believe the water study has been conducted by recognised water experts and that it contains a number of incorrect assumptions about the project. 

One of the 'assumptions' that Bruce made is that businesses and residents of the Manning Valley will pay the price with an uncertain future for their water supply.

Mid Coast Water said it is well placed to ensure the region's water demands are met well into the future and there is no indication that AGL's Gloucester project will impact on the authority's ability to supply customer's with drinking water. 

"However we share the water study authors concerns about the impact of the AGL project on the catchment and are working closely with a number of bodies and individuals, including the NSW chief scientist to ensure our concerns are heard at government level. We are assessing all data relating to the project carefully to ensure we are fully appraised for the project's impact," MidCoast Water's general manager Robert Loadsman said.

AGL said its water consumption for its Gloucester gas project comprises mostly produced groundwater plus some river water for irrigation. According to its statement these combined volumes are only around ten percent of MidCoast Water's river extractions and will never approach MidCoast Water's level of use. 

The Anning and Robertson study suggests that to dispose of the mine tailings from stage one of the Gloucester project, AGL will have to draw the equivalent of 29 per cent of Mid Coast Water's annual consumption from the Manning River system. Bruce refers to a recent statement made by Mr Moranza, general manager of Upstream Gas for AGL in the Gloucester Advocate: "Long term we believe 10 similar sized irrigation projects would be sufficient to deal with all the produced water from our operations in the valley."

"Within five years AGL will use almost as much water annually as MidCoast Water does to provide water for 37,000 households," said Bruce.

"There simply is not enough water in the river to sustain both AGL's requirements and those of MidCoast Water's need in times of lower flow."

MidCoast Water suggests it has plans in place to upgrade the supply system into the future to accommodate any population growth. Mr Loadsman said MidCoast Water staff will continue to assess the claims made in the Anning and Robertson study, however the community should be assured the organisation is well prepared to meet water demands well into the future. 

But population growth is not the problem. One hundred and ten gas wells on the river flats at Gloucester are what Bruce is most concerned about. "The implications for our drinking water supply are profound and will affect all residents and businesses in the valley," he said.