Aussie geologist warns of ‘bait and switch’ in mineral water
Posted On July 9, 2021
Australian geologist Andrew Smith is warning of a “bait-and-switch” strategy being used by water managers to divert water resources from traditional areas and divert it to new mineral water reserves.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said last year that water managers had been misusing the mineral water sector for more than a decade, including a $10 million rebate from the State Government in 2010.
Mr Smith, a research fellow at the University of New South Wales, said the problem was particularly acute in northern NSW, where the use of mineral water had soared from just 0.5 per cent in 2010 to 5.8 per cent of the state’s water resources.
“They’re diverting resources to mineral water because of the lack of water, the lack, of the mineral,” he said.
“So that’s really the bait and switch.”
Mr Smith said he had spoken to more than 40 water managers in NSW, most of whom were well aware of the problem, but most did not have the tools to manage the situation.
“It’s very, very easy to turn on the taps and say ‘no, we’re not going to take any water’,” he said, “but to actually put in a system that’s designed to manage this resource and make sure it’s used properly.”
Mr Wood said water managers were increasingly finding themselves at the mercy of industry and industry lobbyists.
“The water industry is becoming the arbiter of what’s in the water,” he told the ABC.
The problem, he said was being exacerbated by the Government’s decision to cut back on water resources for water users in remote areas, where there were less water resources available. “
What they’re actually regulating is the level of water that flows into the river, which in turn is regulated by the industry.”
The problem, he said was being exacerbated by the Government’s decision to cut back on water resources for water users in remote areas, where there were less water resources available.
“In a lot of remote areas people will say ‘it’s not my problem, it’s the water company’s problem’, and so we’re really seeing that happen all over the place,” he added.
“And there are a lot more people in those areas than we would like to see in the state.”
Water industry groups welcomed the changes.
They said it was a good first step to improve the situation for water managers.
“There’s been a lot less government interference in water resources in Australia over the last 20 years,” said the Australian Water and Water Conservation Association (AWCA).
“The new water management policy in the WA Government, which is aimed at reducing the number of water resource failures and encouraging water resource management, has had the potential to greatly improve water resources management in Western Australia.”
Dr Wood said the changes were a step in the right direction, but would not be enough.
“We still need to see the industry, particularly the industry in Western NSW, actually come up with a good solution that actually gets to work for the water industry,” he warned.
“I’d like to think that they’re getting the water back, but there are so many water issues that we’re dealing with now that we need to focus on those.”
The AEMO has already begun to make changes, including establishing a new water resources advisory body and establishing a separate advisory committee for the mineral waters sector.
“A lot of people would like the industry to do more to help out, but it’s up to the industry,” Mr Wood added.
AEME chief executive officer Tim Jones said the organisation was also working with the Water Industry Council of Western Australia to develop a framework for water resource oversight and regulation.
“This will include a new industry code of practice and a new framework for monitoring water resources,” he wrote in an email.
“Any changes will be in line with these recommendations and, as part of this process, we will be monitoring the outcomes of this work closely.”