Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program
Mr STEVE WHAN: My question is directed to the Minister for Energy and Utilities. What is the latest information on country water and sewerage?
Mr FRANK SARTOR: I thank the honourable member for Monaro for his question and for his interest in water sustainability initiatives, including some very exciting projects in the Queanbeyan area that I was pleased to discuss when I was last there. If I could make a quick personal explanation, unlike many members of the Opposition I do not dye my hair and I do not waste water. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to tell us whether he has retrofitted his house.
Before answering the honourable member's question it is important that I inform the House of progress in relation to the severe storms that hit the Coffs Harbour region on Wednesday morning. The storms caused extensive electricity supply interruptions in Coffs Harbour, Nana Glen, Woolgoolga and surrounding areas, affecting up to 15,000 customers. The severity of the storms caused significant damage to 20 high-voltage powerlines, although supply was able to be progressively restored to around 10 powerlines throughout the day. At 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday around 4,500 customers remained without power. Country Energy advises me that just a short time ago the number had been reduced to 1,000. I take this opportunity to thank the employees who have had to work on restoring power. In some cases they have had to access areas by helicopter. They have done a sterling job and they deserve the congratulations of the House. The substance of the question relates to our country town and water scheme. The current drought has affected not only Sydney's water supply but also all the major country dams.
Mr Thomas George: What about Woolgoolga?
Mr FRANK SARTOR: If the honourable member for Lismore were to listen for a minute he might learn something. Despite the rain, the average water level in rural and regional dams is still below 40 per cent. Yesterday in the debate on the Metropolitan Water Plan the honourable member for Lachlan, amidst a diatribe of erroneous statements, actually said something correct. He said that Wyangala Dam, on the Lachlan, is sitting at just 12 per cent capacity. That is true. So the challenge remains. We have a plan, the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program. Through this program we have supported country towns with more than 570 water and sewerage projects, benefiting more than 200 towns and one million people. I am pleased to inform the House that the program's total allocation has been boosted to more than $900 million. This means that more high-priority water and sewerage projects in rural and regional New South Wales will be able to secure funding. As we all know, country councils and water utilities value their autonomy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order.
Mr FRANK SARTOR: There are 106 water utilities that supply water in country areas. Water is not supplied by the State Government; it is supplied by local utilities. Notwithstanding that, as part of our program the Government is providing financial assistance and technical advice to country towns facing water shortages during the current drought. The recent coastal rains are welcome but they have not broken the drought. Several towns are still carting water, and others are under threat.
In partnership with local government, we are doing whatever we can to make sure that no town in New South Wales runs out of water. For example, we are assisting with the development of drought management plans for 106 water utilities. We are test drilling for bore water in 22 locations across the State. We are assisting councils to lay pipes to access river pools or deep storages in dams, and we are subsidising the cost of water cartage. Since the drought began the Government has spent $8.8 million assisting country water utilities to secure their water supplies, and we expect to spend an additional $3.8 million that has been allocated this financial year for alternative water supplies for drought-affected communities. If the situation worsens significantly the figure could rise to $7.7 million.
A month ago the Premier brought Goulburn's water shortage to the attention of the House. At that time Goulburn's total water capacity was at 34.5 per cent. Goulburn's storages have benefited from recent rainfall and have increased to 36.8 per cent capacity. The Government has allocated $176,000 in funding. A number of test bores are currently being drilled and other water sources are being sought. Bore water is not the only option for Goulburn. The council is also considering a number of other measures, including a transfer system from Mulwaree Pond to Sooley Dam.
In Eurobodalla on the South Coast the focus of the drought is shifting. Despite the recent rains the major South Coast rivers are still recording low flows. Eurobodalla Shire Council has recently introduced level three water restrictions. Good results have been gained from investigating ground water in the Tuross River that may contribute to securing the region's water supply. I am pleased to advise the House that the New South Wales Government has been able to provide drought emergency funding of up to $662,000 to Eurobodalla Shire Council to maintain supply to communities including Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma. These funds will help the council implement essential works such as developing further ground water sources, extracting water from the lower levels of Deep Creek Dam, and providing treatment facilities to improve the water quality of the bore water and the water from the deep storage of the dam.
The strategy that we are promoting through the Metropolitan Water Plan is also being promoted in country New South Wales, where they are seeking to diversify their sources of water as we are doing in Sydney. Country utilities are embracing reuse. Some 62 per cent of local water utilities have recycling schemes. The total volume of sewage being recycled is almost 33 gigalitres, which is 20 per cent of the total volume of sewage collected. Five years ago the figure was only 14 per cent. That means 33 billion litres of sewage is no longer going into our rivers each year. It is going onto playing fields, parks and golf courses and into industry and agriculture. That means that 33,000 Olympic swimming pools of drinking water stay in our rivers and boost dam supplies. I commend the Shoalhaven City Council on its regional effluent management scheme.
The mayor of Shoalhaven is a good friend of the honourable member for South Coast. He demonstrated the hypocrisy of members opposite. I commend the City of Shoalhaven. The mayor is a great man and he does a great job. I also commend Orange and Muswellbrook for their industrial recycling schemes and the schemes under way at Port Macquarie and Albury.
Desalination is another way to diversify supply, especially for rapidly growing populations facing water shortages. Just as desalination technology will be tested in Sydney today, $56,000 has been approved for a feasibility study into desalination on the far North Coast, which has seen very rapid growth since 1996. Tweed Shire has had a 15 per cent population growth. High-growth areas like the North Coast are prone to water shortages during droughts; the region is still vulnerable despite the recent rainfall. Therefore it has been necessary for utilities to introduce water restrictions. This study will investigate the potential for the desalination of salt and brackish water for potential sources of drinking water and look at the feasibility of purifying effluent for environmental flows. In addition, the study will look at alternative energy sources, such as solar, to power desalination, thereby avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.
The Government is working with local utilities and it has introduced best practice guidelines and revised the allocation formula. It is working to guarantee that best practice and water conservation measures are implemented in country New South Wales. Resources have been more effectively targeted and the Government is standing with country communities to address the issues in a systematic and sensible manner, not in the policy-free manner that honourable members opposite are adopting. I thank the member for his question.