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NSW Chief Scientist to investigate impacts of commercial groundwater extraction

The New South Wales (NSW) Government has responded to calls from members of the state’s National Party to investigate the impact of the bottled water industry on groundwater sources.

NSW Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said the State’s Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte will conduct an independent review into the issue in the Northern Rivers region.

The region encompasses the catchments of the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed rivers, and supports a diverse range of agriculture, including bananas, sugar cane, beef, vegetables, dairy and nuts.

Durrant-Whyte will provide advice on sustainable groundwater extraction limits and assess whether the current or proposed groundwater monitoring bores are sufficient.

The announcement comes after outgoing Nationals Member for Lismore Thomas George called for a moratorium on commercial water licenses that allow water to be extracted and taken off-site.

George, along with Nationals candidate for Lismore Austin Curtin, asked the NSW Government to instigate an independent review to understand how commercial groundwater extraction impacts water supply.

“This review is not about stopping groundwater extraction, which we know is very important to landholders who rely on groundwater for stock and domestic purposes,” George said.

“I asked Minister Blair to commission the review so that we have a better understanding of what groundwater extraction for water bottling means for the long-term viability of the water table.”

Curtin said he had met with community groups, including the Tweed Water Alliance, which raised concerns about the impact of the bottled water industry on local water supply.

“This independent review will ensure that we are in a position to make a data-driven decision to secure the future of the Northern Rivers, now and for generations to come,” Curtin said.

Blair acknowledged the importance of the review for Northern Rivers residents, but said he is confident the bottled water industry is operating sustainably.

“Water is a finite resource and we are completing this review to make sure that water remains available into the future in the Northern Rivers catchment for all purposes, including stock and domestic users and for groundwater dependent ecosystems,” he said.

A rural town in Victoria made headlines earlier this year after it lost a four-year court battle against Asahi Beverages, which was extracting and bottling the town's groundwater. The 400 residents of Stanley were left with $90,000 in legal fees amassed during their fight against the drinks giant.

Durrant-Whyte is expected to provide his initial report by early February, with a final report to be published in mid-2019.

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