Council to consider new Recycled Water fees for farmers

Coffs Coast farmers may be hit with Recycled Water fees from 1 July to help address environmental pollution in the region’s existing waterways. Photo: Emma Darbin.

 

RECYCLED water fees may be charged to local farmers from 1 July 2021, following a recent resolution by Coffs Harbour City Council to consider introducing the new fees at the next Council budget.

Council placed on public exhibition a proposal to introduce the Fees and Charges for Recycled Water in October 2020, and Council received 38 public submissions on the new fees.

After considering the submissions, further changes to the Recycled Water Fees and Charges were proposed which included delaying the introduction of the fees to 1 July 2021, providing clearer definition of commercial, non-commercial and sporting bodies for the purpose of exempting non-commercial users and sporting bodies from Recycled Water Consumption Charges up to their allocated supply volume, and implementing a financial rebate program to incentivise and reward commercial users who are able to demonstrate a high degree of water efficiency in their use of recycled water.

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Recycled water is created from a waste stream (domestic sewage).

Demand for recycled water has steadily increased since Council began the supply in the late 1990s, and now totals 59 customers including 34 agricultural, fifteen non-agricultural and ten Council facilities.

A Council report on the proposed fee stated that “audits and inspections undertaken by Council staff have identified occurrences where Recycled Water customers have allowed large uncontrolled discharges of Recycled Water to enter downstream water courses”.

Recent studies by Southern Cross University found that nitrate levels in the waterways downstream of Council’s Recycled Water exceeded environmental guidelines.

“Isotropic analysis of these nitrates infers that recycled water discharge may be a contributor to this environmental pollution,” the Council report stated.

“The introduction of a user pays model is expected to be (an) effective behavioural change mechanism to disincentive misuses and/or neglect of Council supplied Recycled Water.

“Coupled with an increased audit and compliance program which is funded via the future charge, it is anticipated that a net reduction of Recycled Water entering the environment will result.”

Coffs Harbour City councillors were split on the proposed introduction of the new fee, when discussing the matter at Council’s ordinary meeting on Thursday 11 March.

Cr Tegan Swan said it was good to see the funds raised from the new fee “go towards supporting industry education as well as compliance matters.

Cr Sally Townley said the new fee would allow growers to rethink how they use Council’s recycled water.

“If we introduce a fee for this resource, I think that growers will be a little bit more careful in how they use it, but I think importantly it places a value on it and it allows Council to have a bit of an income stream if we’re going to address the issue,” Cr Townley stated.

“By placing a value on it we’re starting to get a bit of a handle on the cost, on the usage.

“At the end of the day it is a valuable resource; I think it’s an important step in the right direction.”

However, Cr Paul Amos said the new charges were “not fair” for local farmers.

“At the end of the day, what we’re doing is targeting 34 growers in the Hearnes Lake area,” Cr Amos said.

“I just don’t think that that is the way we should be heading.

“This is to stop the pollution in Hearnes Lake, but it won’t stop the pollution in Hearnes Lake.”

Cr Amos said Council was contributing to the problem by supplying local growers with polluted water.

“It’s not making any sense that we should be levying 34 odd growers, and we’re supplying them some of the water that is doing the damage,” Cr Amos said.

“We cannot lower our standard here, and actually knowingly give them the water to use that is polluted.

“The Council in my eyes only has three ways to solve this, they either ask the farmers to treat the water once they get the water onto their property, they don’t supply the farmers at all because the water is not up to standard, or we treat the water again.”

Cr Michael Adendorff said Council was “on a very slippery slope” by introducing the new fees.

“This is the introduction of a fee or charge, today it’s this, in five years who knows what it is,” Cr Adendorff said.

“I’m concerned because farming is at the core of any society, and by regulating farming we are treading water that higher levels of government will not tread.

“Intensive plant agriculture is largely unregulated as a result of Federal and State legislation specifically allowing that, and this is because farming is at the heart of what every society is.”

A Council vote on the matter was tied 3-3, with Mayor Denise Knight using her casting vote to approve the Council resolution.

Cr John Arkan was absent from the meeting, and Cr Keith Rhoades declared a pecuniary interest in the matter as he is an executive member of an organisation that uses recycled water, and he vacated the Council Chambers and took no part in discussion or voting on the issue.

Crs Tegan Swan, Denise Knight and Sally Townley voted for Council to consider the new fees, and Crs Micheal Adendorff, Paul Amos and George Cecato voted against.

Council resolved to consider during the upcoming 2021/22 budget setting processes, the introduction from 1 July 2021 of the Recycled Water Consumption Charge of 20 cents per kilolitre of recycled water, a Recycled Water Access and Licensing Charge of $447 per year, and a Recycled Water Consumption Charge of $2 per kilolitre for excess use of one’s allocated supply volume.

If approved, Council intends to increase the Recycled Water Consumption Charge progressively over the next three years to 10% of the potable Residential Water Consumption Charge in the 2022/2023 financial year, 15% in the 2023/2024 financial year, and 20% in the 2024/2025 financial year.

 

By Emma DARBIN

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