Orange City Council’s plan to store water pumped from the Macquarie River in Suma Park Dam where it will go over the spillway and evaporate is unacceptable and the sustainability of the Macquarie Pipeline is of “serious concern”, according to the state government’s Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).
The office was one of several government departments to make submissions reviewing the Macquarie Pipeline’s Environmental Assessment (EA) currently before the Department of Planning.
Of the 143 submissions from members of the public and organisations, 136 objected to the project, including the state members for Bathurst and Dubbo and Bathurst councillor Warren Aubin.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), NSW Office of Water, Fisheries, Crown Lands and Agriculture all gave in-principle support to the $47 million project, provided the council followed the departments’ conditions.
But the environment office, while not objecting outright, was critical of the sustainability and efficiency of the 36-kilometre pipeline.
It described the council’s assessment of the pipeline’s impact on the aquatic environment at the river’s extraction point and on downstream areas, including the Macquarie Marshes, as “inadequate”.
The office also said the project’s “clear intention” to allow for increased water use beyond its original aim to drought proof the city was contrary to State and Commonwealth water policy.
Despite the damning assessment, Orange mayor John Davis did not think it would lend weight to objections for the project.
“Just because it’s written in a submission doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong,” he said.
“We’re finding it hard to work out how they, from their expertise and experience, could make such comments.
“All the other government departments have supported the project, so why are we pulling out one?”
Cr Davis said it was mischievous of the environment office to criticise the council for wanting to increase water usage in the future while not acknowledging the lengths the community had gone to conserve water, especially compared to Dubbo.
The environment office recommended that the council look at storing water from the river in a closed reservoir instead of Suma Park Dam to minimise evaporation.
Cr Neil Jones was the only councillor to write a submission objecting to the pipeline.
He remained concerned the project would not be independently assessed by the planning department.
But Cr Davis rejected Cr Jones’ concerns.
“I don’t know if that’s his personal idea or Greens policy,” he said.
“Everybody would expect [the approval process] to be untouched and without favour and that’s what it will be.”