Opinion| Is Macarthur's water supply really secure?

LESS THAN 30 PER CENT: The dire state of our local water supply at Cataract Dam, is shown in this photo last week by well-known Wollondilly photographer and history buff, James Whitfield.
LESS THAN 30 PER CENT: The dire state of our local water supply at Cataract Dam, is shown in this photo last week by well-known Wollondilly photographer and history buff, James Whitfield.

Too little, too late.

That's how I suspect most local people responded on the weekend as Level 1 water restrictions kicked in to try to protect our water supply from drought.

What does Level 1 mean?

No hosing hard surfaces, no watering lawns between 10am and 4pm, hoses must have a trigger nozzle.

Yeah, I know...weak as.

On the driest continent on earth, some of us think these should be normal rules for any time it is not raining...not an emergency measure.

Perhaps we're too spoiled. There are bush towns in NSW on Level 5 restrictions, or have already gone to yucky bore water. I know families living on a bucket of drinking water a day (about the same amount that some city people let pour down the drain as they brush their teeth).

Level 1 automatically kicks in as dams hit an "average" of 50 per cent.

The problem with averages is, that they are nonsense. If you put your head in an oven and your feet in a bucket if ice, averages will tell you that your body temperature is fairly comfortable.

The said reality is, Cataract - which supplies much of our local water in Macarthur via Appin filtration plant - is not at 50 per cent, it is actually sitting at 28 per cent. Cordeaux Dam, which supplies parts of Wollondilly, is down to 40 per cent.

These, I'm told by people a lot more knowledgeable than me, are "stand-alone dams", relying on rainfall to fill them, unlike other dams where water can be pumped from one to the other.

Cataract also has to release a decent amount of water downstream unless it wants to kill platypus, etc. The rain we got this week won't make much of a dent.

It's OK, some people say, if we run out of water we can just switch to the Desal Plant. But it doesn't supply us...we're just expected to pay extra in our bills to fund it for other parts of Sydney.

I'm wondering just how secure our local water security is. Wollondilly Mayor Matt Deeth has warned that the state government is "heading towards potential disaster", particularly as more and more thirsty housing estates are rammed through.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we're gonna run out of drinking water next week, but I doubt we wouldn't be sitting on 28 per cent at Cataract if Level 1, or even Level 2, had kicked in a year or two ago, as local people (including local political voices such as Greg Warren and Judy Hannan) were begging the state government to do. They were ignored.

If the drought drags on another year or so and this actually turns into a local crisis, well, some of us might think it was an avoidable one.

Water is vital to life, a precious resource in Australia, but instead of being treated like gold, it gets treated like a joke. A rather sad one.

Cataract Dam - which supplies much of our local water - is not at 50 per cent, it's at 28 per cent.

Our governments allow our catchment to be mined under, we have dying rivers, mass fish kills, as residents of bush towns are forced to drink bottled water while cotton is still irrigated. Other precious water is siphoned off for coal and gas mines, not to mention the large-scale theft of water which tends to be exposed by the media...not the pollies.

I've often said re the developer free-for-all that is Macarthur doesn't need a planning commission, it needs a Royal Commission. Same with water security.

The only thing as important to us as water is air.

So the government should treat our water security with the same importance as they treat Macarthur's air quality.

Oh crap.

We need to rethink our priorities

I'm told that Sydney's water catchment - most of which is located here in Macarthur - is the only major city supply on earth that allows mining under it. Not even tinpot Third World dictatorships, it seems, are that stupid.

But our state government keeps on approving longwall mining, ignoring expert advice that it's too risky.

(Yet if you or I go bushwalking on that same catchment land we will cop government fines for endangering the water supply.)

To its credit, WaterNSW is speaking up and says mining operations should be restricted to protect the water supply, noting that millions of litres of water are being lost daily. Daily!

I've reported on one vanished, or polluted, creek after another over the years.

This is why this newspaper campaigned so strongly to get a Dharawal National Park, to protect the pristine kidneys of the Georges River.

Mines and pollies always blame drought if a waterway suddenly vanishes (even if worse droughts didn't have the same result in the past).

I've recently returned from a part of NSW once famous for its drought-proof springs. So when they had a downpour of 100mm, and creeks were still bone dry, local CSG miners blame the drought. Despite the history. I'd say it would at least be pause for thought - but not our government. Full steam ahead.

Mining is important.

I'm sure though that many of us believe water security is more important.