[singlepic id=216 w=320 h=240 float=left]Ahead of a further public meeting tomorrow night, Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt has reiterated his call for Cairns Regional Council (CRC) to seek an independent review of its Public Environment Report (PER) for the Mulgrave River Aquifer.

Mr Pitt said he was unable to go to the public meeting as Parliament was sitting in Brisbane this week however a representative from his office would be in attendance.

“The level of public feeling on this issue was evident by the turnout at the public meeting held earlier this month in Gordonvale,” Mr Pitt said.

“It’s disappointing to see that people were turned away and for the meeting not to go ahead. There are larger venues to hold such meetings and it was a sign I think that the Council has underestimated the level of concern over this proposal.

“I have received many representations from constituents concerned about the potential impacts of the proposal by Cairns Regional Council to draw water from the Mulgrave Aquifer, which prompted me to write to the Mayor in February.

“My view from the outset has been that any action on the Mulgrave Aquifer must be based on independent, peer reviewed science.”

Mr Pitt said he had sought briefings from Cairns Water, Mulgrave Landcare and Catchment Group and the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) in order to improve his understanding of what is a complex proposal.

“I don’t have the expert knowledge to determine whether or not the PER stacks up. What I do know is that there are many who are seeking an independent review of the hydrological, geological and modelling components of the report and I support this view,” Mr Pitt said.

“Seeking third-party endorsement for the PER would demonstrate that the Council is approaching this process in an open and transparent manner.

“Such a move may also put to rest the concerns of many people and remove much of the opposition to the proposal.”

Agricultural land concerns

When he wrote to Mayor Schier earlier this year, Mr Pitt also asked that Council give consideration to the potential impacts the aquifer proposal may have on the agricultural land.

“This land not only supports the livelihoods of many farming families in the district, but also supplies cane to the Mulgrave Central Mill which is a significant employer in the region,” Mr Pitt said.

“The FNQ 2031 Statutory Regional Plan clearly states the need to protect and maintain good quality agricultural land for use by future generations.

“In response I was given an assurance by Council that further work will be done to confirm that no identifiable impacts on agricultural land production will occur.”

Response to petition

Mr Pitt also lodged a petition with State Parliament in August seeking an independent review of Council’s PER.

“In response, while the PER is not associated with any legislative decision process in Queensland, Minister for Natural Resources Stephen Robertson has asked the Federal Environment Minister to make available any assessment of the PER undertaken by the federal government,” Mr Pitt said.

“The state government has not to date peer reviewed the PER but will be assessing the hydrology of the Mulgrave catchment and aquifer as part of the water resource planning process it will undertake.”

Aquifer only one option

Mr Pitt said the Far North Queensland Water Supply Strategy released earlier this year set out a portfolio of options for the Council to examine.

“Yes the Council is exploring the aquifer based on advice from DERM, but it was one of several suggested options to consider for future water supply – including rainwater tanks, demand management, desalination, reuse options, recycled water, and extractions from Lake Placid,” Mr Pitt said.

“It has also been suggested that there are a number of ‘sleeper licences’ on the Tableland that CRC could purchase to increase its allocation in the short to medium term.

“In choosing to explore the Mulgrave Aquifer, Council is no doubt seeking to ensure best value for money for ratepayers, but it must be remembered that cost is only one of the factors that should be considered.”

Strategic view needed

Mr Pitt said the expected population growth in the Cairns Region, particularly in the southern corridor, necessitated a more strategic view that looked not only at water supply but also economic and social development.

“I’ve long supported the bringing forward of the proposed Nullinga Dam which has the capacity to be interconnected with Tinaroo Dam and operated together,” Mr Pitt said.

“The Nullinga Dam ticks the boxes in terms of reliability of storage and supply, but it would also offer additional tourism, recreational and employment benefits to the local area.

“Currently this option won’t be considered by the state government until a range of demand and supply options have been fully examined – it would be at least 10 years after that before it could be completed.”

Mr Pitt said the development of a Water Resource Plan was essential to meet the future growth demand.

“While our region is the wettest in Australia, we can sometimes take for granted that we will always have water,” Mr Pitt said.

“Almost 90 per cent of our rainfall happens during the wet season which means our dry seasons can be very dry. Many people also do not realise that we lose much of this rainfall due to runoff or evaporation before it can be put to good use.

“This, combined with the population growth being experienced in our region makes water planning and management essential to cater for future consumption needs and protection of the environment.”

The meeting will be held Wednesday 27 October 2010 at the Gordonvale RSL Hall in Gordon Street from 6.30pm.

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