Sydney needs to get serious about water efficiency before it takes more from the Shoalhaven

It’s time for a rethink of the water transfer arrangements. Why do transfers from the Shoalhaven start when Sydney’s dams fall to 75%, but the desalination plant is only turned on at 60%, and restrictions only start at 50%? It seems backwards and does not encourage efficient water use in the city.

The Greens have called for a review of water arrangements that has seen 26 billion litres, or 17% of Sydney’s water supply, pumped from the Shoalhaven River to Sydney over the three months November 2018 to January 2019. For part of this period Shoalhaven residents were on Level 1 water restrictions while Sydney had no enforced restrictions and water usage rates in the city continue to climb.

The details are in the latest WaterNSW Greater Sydney Operations Plan February 2019 report.

NSW Greens MP, water spokesperson and Shoalhaven resident, Justin Field, said, “I think the Shoalhaven community would be furious to know that for part of the time we were on water restrictions last year, Sydney was sucking the equivalent of over 10,000 olympic swimming pools of water from the Shoalhaven River.

“The Shoalhaven transfers are more about politics than the responsible and sustainable use of water. The Shoalhaven is losing water because the major parties are too scared to call for earlier water restrictions in Sydney or to start the desal plant earlier.

“We need to do water smarter. The $2.5 billion the NSW Government has ripped out of Sydney Water as dividends, should be redirected to water efficiency and recycling programs to reduce Sydney’s water demand and that should come before more water is extracted from the Shoalhaven,” Justin Field said.


Greens State Candidate for South Coast Kim Stephenson backed the call for a review. Ms Stephenson said, “Without a review, as water demand in Sydney and the Shoalhaven continues to grow, there is only going to be more pressure to pump from our river.

“The pumping has a significant impact on the water available for the Shoalhaven community. It also reduces flows available for the lower Shoalhaven, and that has environmental consequences and impacts on water available for aquaculture and stock and domestic needs.”

Greens State Candidate for Kiama, Nina Digiglio, highlighted the broader issues around water management, including continuing to allow coal mining under the water catchment in the Illawarra. Ms Digiglio said, “Sydney is losing significant water from its storages because of underground coal mining.

“A recent review of the impact of Illawarra coal mines suggests as much as 3.5 million litres a day was lost into underground mine workings. This adds to the over 100 million litres a day lost in leaking pipes across the Sydney network.“

Ms Digiglio asked, “Why are we allowing such massive water transfers to Sydney when the city is undermining its own water supply?”


Greens federal candidate for Gilmore, Carmel McCallum, highlighted the impact climate change will have on water supplies and the terrible track record of the Nationals on water.

Ms McCallum said, “We know that climate change is going to make rainfall patterns and water supply less reliable and increase temperatures and evaporation rates. We need to ensure climate change is being factored into water planning, but also to take urgent steps to reduce emissions to mitigate the worst impacts.”

Highlighting the push this week by some federal National Party MPs for public investment in coal-fired power, Ms McCallum said, “The last thing we need for the Shoalhaven and our river is the Nationals. They would be a disaster for the climate and water security.

“Katrina Hodgkinson was the Primary Industries Minister who oversaw many of the changes that are directly linked to the death of millions of fish in the Darling River. The Shoalhaven community is right to ask questions about how she would advocate for our local water given the gross maladministration of the Murray-Darling Basin,” she said.

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