Wednesday 21 October 2020


It's no secret that the world faces a water crisis, recently described as a “challenge for humanity”, and "the result of uncertain supply and growing demand".


Since about 2000, Clarence Valley Council has implemented water efficiency measures, which have dramatically reduced consumption in an ongoing effort to balance that supply and demand equation.


Last year, Council contracted consultants to undertake a review of its Water Efficiency Strategic Plan, and Implementation Strategy, placing them on public exhibition for comment earlier this year. Those documents thoroughly explored a plethora of measures to further reduce consumption but, oddly, there's no mention of controlling development or population growth, which continue to increase demand for water, despite all the efficiency measures.


This year saw the new jail opened, effectively adding a satellite town the size of Maclean to the consumption network, along with approval of several large residential developments.


Therefore, if efficiency measures were needed to ensure consumption doesn't exceed supply, what is the supply situation, and is it secure? Those questions were asked in submissions to the new plans which, strangely, made no mention of any threats to that supply.


Currently, the entire region from Iluka to Coffs Harbour are wholly dependent on the Nymboida River to provide drinking water.


Threats to the quality of that supply include climate change, through increased evaporation and possible longer droughts and mining accidents spilling toxic waste into the system, potentially making it undrinkable.  Other major threats are clear-felling of pine plantations and increased logging intensity causing erosion and increased turbidity as well as the current expansion of intensive horticulture where dam building is already reducing river flows.


Ash from wildfires also threatened to poison our water, but not one of these threats are mentioned in Council's plans. Why? It's a state government problem they say, not ours.


Now however, with a mining exploration licence application being lodged, to drill in an area between the Nymboida and Little Nymboida Rivers, which together supply all the region's water, that problem may be something Council can no longer afford to ignore.


            -John Edwards

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on October 12 ,  2020.

Saturday 17 October 2020




October 10 2020

“North Coast local governments need to be proactive and precautionary in identifying high conservation lands and water supply catchments that should be off-limits to mining,” said North Coast Environment Council (NCEC) President, Jim Morrison. 

“Mining exploration on the Dorrigo Plateau and in the Coffs-Clarence water catchments could have serious impacts on regional water supplies. That means everyone downstream of the mines from towns, villages and farms to local industries, particularly those that depend on clean water like agriculture, horticulture, grazing and fisheries,” he said

“There are exploration projects going on right now, to determine whether open cut mines for a range of minerals are viable. These include cobalt, copper and gold.

“Hundreds of square kilometres of land in these catchments now has mining leases over it. Councils need to get active and determine which areas are critical to maintaining clear and constant water supply to north coast communities. 

“They also need to be working with aboriginal communities to assist them in identifying sites of important cultural heritage. And they need to work with local communities and government agencies to identify areas of high conservation value for biodiversity.

“We shouldn't be waiting until companies have spent millions of dollars on exploration and have an expectation that their mines will go ahead, before saying 'NOT HERE'. 

“The reality is we can't rely on the State Government to protect our natural environment. There are too many examples from across NSW where they have allowed mining projects to go ahead in critical water catchments, like the coal mines that have cracked river beds in the Sydney water catchment, and in ecologically sensitive areas like the Leard forest which is being cleared for a mine.

“Local government and community will need to work together to defend the environment we all depend on, or it will be degraded and destroyed. 

“We're calling on the Clarence Valley and Coffs Council to start informing their ratepayers about exploration happening in those catchments,” Mr Morrison said.

Tuesday 6 October 2020


 More than a decade since local environment groups first began voicing concerns about the ballooning intensive horticulture industry in the Coffs – Clarence area, the Natural Resource Access Regulator decides to clamp down on non-compliance. So why has it taken so long?


About five years ago, in response to a deluge of complaints about the industry, an inter-agency advisory committee was finally formed, which seemingly included virtually every government agency and Council on the north coast.


By 2017 the committee had reported widespread illegal land-clearing, including repeat offenders, and the conclusion that “growers are prepared to pay fines as a business cost”. Complaints about water use, pesticide use and spray drift, poor worker accommodation and site safety, along with observations that erosion control was virtually non-existent, were also reported in committee minutes.


That committee was only able to support planning and promote best practice, with no regulatory power to enforce it. That was apparently against government policy at the time. In fact the then Minister wrote to one environment group in the Clarence Valley saying he was opposed to regulation because it “might encourage non-compliance”.


In 2017, Water NSW, the then regulatory authority, was so determined that problems relating to water use by blueberry growers not be aired, that they employed a lawyer at tax-payers' expense to prevent one local environment group from giving evidence to a tribunal hearing over a water licence application.


Despite no real compliance monitoring or enforcement throughout the past decade, this latest “crack down” has been widely reported in the media, seemingly used as some sort of a public relations coup!


Last week The Sydney Morning Herald reported Coffs Harbour's former deputy Mayor making the point that many of the current problems have arisen as a result of intensive horticulture not being required to present a development application (DA). However, all that would be needed is to add that activity to the existing list of developments that already require a DA on rural zoned land. All it takes is political will, but there is little evidence of that at this time.


            - John Edwards


This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on September 28 ,  2020.