Have your say on plan to charge for recycled water
Those who use recycled water provided by Coffs Harbour City Council may be asked to pay for the service in the future.
Council has been considering its options since a report uncovered significant levels of noncompliance in the intensive plant agriculture sector.
None of the 34 existing agricultural customers was fully compliant with the conditions of their Recycled Water Supply Agreements.
Coffs Harbour City Council currently treats sewerage, and produces recycled water, at three facilities: Coffs Harbour Water Reclamation Plant, Moonee Water Reclamation Plant and Woolgoolga Water Reclamation Plant.
The recycled water is pumped via a network of pipelines to customers for use in both municipal and agricultural applications.
There is currently no charge for the supply.
The audit found that some users had allowed leaks to continue unabated and without repair, or valves were allowed to remain open which resulted in large quantities of recycled water entering the natural environment.
The matter was up for debate at Council's recent meeting with a range of opinions expressed on the idea of charging a fee to improve behaviour and recoup costs.
Cr Sally Townley said the introduction of fees and charges was unlikely to have "a material impact" on pollution in the waterways but she supported the measures as a first step to fixing a complex problem.
"At the moment this is basically a waste product - a pollutant source - and someone else is taking it off our hands for free and dumping it into the creek," Cr Townley said.
Cr Michael Adendorff likened the fee to a carbon tax.
Councillors ultimately resolved to introduce the fees, starting at 20 cents per kilolitre and $2.00 for usage in excess of their allocation, and put it out for community consultation.
Have your say
The water fee proposal is now on public exhibition.
"Recycled water is a valuable asset. The recent drought conditions underlined just how important a reliable and secure water source was for local agricultural producers," Council's Director Sustainable Infrastructure Mick Raby said.
"It's been available as a resource since our water reclamation plants came on stream. But there are costs in maintaining, renewing and overseeing the supply pipelines and applying a small charge would help offset some of those costs."
Mr Raby says charging for recycled water would also help underline its importance as an asset and help highlight the need for users to look after the supply infrastructure on their properties to cut losses caused by leaks.
Demand on the way up
Demand for recycled water has steadily increased since Council began the supply in the late 1990s and now totals 59 customers including 34 agricultural, 15 non-agricultural and 10 Council facilities.
Recent Council-financed studies by Southern Cross University scientists into water quality in local waterways has identified a possible link between nitrate levels and large quantities of recycled water entering those waterways.
"Having a higher degree of care in the use of recycled water by users will also have a beneficial impact on our environment," Mr Raby said.
"Our recycled water has been treated to a very high standard as any excess is pumped into the ocean when we have periods of high rainfall. But where it has been allowed to flow into natural waterways from properties in excessively high quantities, the cumulative effect does appear to have had an effect on the mineral balance of those creeks.
He says charging for its use would be a good reminder for users to make sure they look after their pipelines - and will also help Council to run a more intense audit program of users to ensure compliance in the future.
The proposed Recycled Water Access and Licensing Charge and Recycled Water Consumption Charges plan will be on exhibition until Friday, November 13.
Submissions can be made, and more information found, on Council's Have Your Say website.