Dam policy rethought

COLLIE Shire Council has decided to oppose deproclamation of the Wellington Dam as a public drinking water source.

They voted five-three to oppose deproclamation, fearing it would effectively destroy any hope of the reservoir eventually being used as a potable (drinking) water source.

Last week’s council meeting was asked to reaffirm its position on the dam that the water be used for industrial purposes and that public access be promoted.

Councillors went along with that but added their opposition to deproclamation.

Shire chief executive officer Jason Whiteaker told the meeting that the agenda item was a response to a letter sent by river campaigner Ed Riley to every member of the council.

Mr Riley warned in his letter: “Deproclamation will result in less restrictions on public recreation but will allow for more industrial use — about 20 gigalitres (2 billion litres) of annual water to new industry … When full the dam holds 186 gigalitres (186 billion litres). Deproclamation will allow levels in the dam to fall to 25 gigalitres before the pumps are turned off.”

Environment Minister Bill Marmion conceded in March that more aggressive local coal mining would have serious implications for the Collie River and Wellington Dam, Mr Riley added.

Mr Whiteaker said there had been no formal decision on the reservoir’s use but councillors had previously supported industrial and recreational use.

Cr Ian Miffling moved the council should oppose deproclamation “because the opportunity to use it as a potable water source will be lost forever”.

He reminded councillors that council fought “long and hard, with public support, for the Wellington National Forest” and the water body was integral to the national park.

“We always hoped it would lead to some passive recreation.”

He added: “It would be wrong of this community not to express its disapproval (of deproclamation).”

This week Cr Miffling said: “This point really is that if we allow deproclamation to take place, the dam will be lost for potable use and it will be all to hard to get it back.

“The council fought so hard, with the community, to get the national park — fought to get the government to buy the land for the park — thast to let industry drain the dam would be terrible.”

During the meeting, he reminded councillors that in a 2009 submission, the council had supported both potable and industrial use.

“The intention always was to return it to a potable supply and rehabilitation of the catchment is still possible. We can’t let it disappear.”

Cr John Piavanini agreed but said water authorities could allow dam levels to go down only so far, he thought 23 per of capacity, for structural reasons.

If it got to that level, then new industries, such as Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilisers, would have to look elsewhere for a water source.

Cr Glyn Yates said no rehabilitation had been carried out in the catchment for 15 years. “You would have to wipe out all of the farmland to the east (by replanting trees) to get the Wellington Weir water back to potable,” he said.

“I would like the staff to research what deproclamation would mean.”

His suggestion wass not supported.

Cr Miffling urged: “We have to preserve what we have got, don’t let it slip away.”

An elated Mr Riley this week congratulated councillors for opposing the move to deproclaim the reservoir.

“I am sure it will help protect the national park, which is great for tourism and future generations,” he said.

It had been a long drawn-out fight to get to this point, Mr Riley said. He first sent his letter to the council offices in February but it was not put on a meeting agenda as requested.

So he sent it again, with a copy to every council member.