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TasWater – Rural Water Use Strategy

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Tags: TasWater, Water

Dr WOODRUFF - My question is about the Government's process for developing the Rural Water Use Strategy. We have a draft now, but as part of the process TasWater made a submission to the original position paper the Government put out, and raised a number of issues in the submission. That was in June 2020. The company highlighted that -

The explicit exclusion of urban water, which includes town supplies in rural and regional areas, from the scope of the strategy risks shifting costs of management onto TasWater customers, particularly in the areas of access to secure allocations and management of water quality.

Can you please provide us with an overview of the key risks TasWater has identified in relation to these issues?

Mr BREWSTER - The risks we were concerned about - really, if the water is not carefully allocated you could, for example, over-allocate irrigators and not have enough water for drinking water customers. We would then have to find another source, and there would be significant costs, so therefore there'd be cost subsidisation. We were quite clear on what we thought. They invited our input. We provided it. I met with the head of the department, post that report, to say I do have some concerns, I want to make sure that those concerns are heard, our board is concerned about this. Then it was agreed that urban water would be incorporated into rural water, and that we would have a seat at the table, and we would share our concerns and work together on a long-term solution.

As I said earlier, I think there have been two meetings attended by our general manager for asset management services, and that seems to be heading in the right direction, but we will continue to advocate for metering, which I think is happening for the monitoring, and to ensure that there is a sensible allocation of water. I think that's the same path everybody's on at the moment.

Dr WOODRUFF - The submission from TasWater also said:

Proposals to change how water is taken and traded, along with anticipated land use impacts as a result of the AgriVision 2050 goal, have the potential to greatly affect the water quality of the state's water resources.

Can you go into some more detail about what the anticipated land use impacts will be and how they have the potential to affect water quality?

Mr BREWSTER - It's the same issue. If you're not putting up swales to stop nutrients and other sediment running into the water, you risk further deterioration in the catchment. We wanted to ensure that we were part of the discussion for the long term, how you ensure you minimise further impacts on the catchments. That was an issue. If there's further intensification, we want to understand the intensification of farming, et cetera, so we can predict the impact on those catchments and those river schemes.

As you probably know, we don't control most of those catchments. We wanted to make sure we were part of the conversation and I think it's in everybody's interests. We have particular subject matter expertise that we can contribute to that conversation and make it clear that if you do that, this is a consequence and you need to take that into account as you look forward over the next 20 to 30 years. That is the conversation we want to be part of. The catchments are where they are, we put plants in place that can treat the water in the catchments. It's probably a much longer journey to restore catchments. We would like to be part of that, it's part of our environmental and climate change strategy. That's pretty much where we're heading.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. Another point the submission from TasWater made to the Rural Water Use Strategy process was a comment:

As catchments have become more fully allocated, ensuring towns with growing populations are able to maintain a high level of water security has become more difficult and dependent upon the construction of rural water storages.

Are there any catchment areas or population areas which are of particular concern? You gestured around this in answers to some other questions. Could you please say which ones?

Mr BREWSTER - The catchments on the east coast would probably be our largest concern. We have a plan to upgrade a dam in the Orford area to try to increase the storage there. Some of the smaller catchments can also present concerns. We have to work out what is the most sensible solution. Do we put in off stream storage? Do we look at a new technology? That's also part of the master planning, to have a good understanding of what's coming in new technologies. The technologies we adopt today may not, or probably won't, be the technologies in 10 to 20 years. It's a look forward for us. That master planning will identify any further catchments where we believe we're going to have to move to a new technology or a new source.

Dr WOODRUFF - Some of the figures show there's been a 40 per cent increase in the last four years in the commercial water supply that's been issued by TasWater. At the same time, we've had on average something like a 16 per cent reduction in rainfall in Tasmania in the last six years. That's on average, year on year. Some years it has been 31 per cent, some down to five per cent below the long term average. There's also been a commitment to deliver water to Tasmanian Irrigation that has increased 5.6 times over the past six years. We've had a huge commitment to provide more water while we're having a reduction in water coming into the system from rain. Is TasWater concerned about the trajectory of these? You are doing planning but is that behind your concern about the Rural Water Use Strategy not being a rural and urban water use strategy?

Mr BREWSTER - We are concerned to the extent that we need to understand, for each system - and that's what our master planning is about - what is the future in the next 20 years using the climate change projections we will ultimately rely upon. That's an ongoing assessment for us at all times. The number of catchments means it's not just one system, it's all of these systems, so we prioritise.

Dr GUMLEY - The important thing is that we all work together on it. A lot of people want water. Irrigators want water. Hydrogen wants water. Residents want water. We all have to understand where everyone else's needs are going.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Dr Gumley. Your submission also said:

… that water course conveyance of water that has been stored for long periods of time, particularly during periods of low river flow, have the potential to cause issues for water users that harvest flows continually, such as those in town water supplies.

The TasWater submission indicates the potential impact of things like suspended solids, and algae that can impose costs on the Tasmanian community. Is there any particular areas or cases where a water course conveyance of water has been noted as an issue already by TasWater?

Mr BREWSTER - Sure. Last year Scamander was an issue for us. The supply dried up. We had to look at how we supplied it longer term. When other smaller systems dry up, the turbidity tends to increase. That happens on an ongoing basis, depending on how much rainfall you get. As I said earlier, with climate change, with the rainfall being more intense, you get a lot of rain very quickly. Therefore, you lose a lot of that water, particularly if it is a run-of-the-river scheme, it is even worse.

Yes, for us, that is just an ongoing activity. It's an activity we share with DPIPWE as part of the process. They allocate us the water to ensure they are across our needs at the moment.

But again, we understand, as Dr Gumley said, the only way you are going forward here is if all participants are in the game. That is why we are pretty keen to join, and have joined the round table so we have a voice and we can share with them our experiences, and they can take what we provide them in terms of their own thinking. There is a whole-of-state view on where water goes from here.

Dr WOODRUFF - In January this year, following the draft water use strategy coming out in October last year, as chair of TasWater, Dr Gumley wrote to minister Barnett expressing the organisation's concern about the fact the Government's draft strategy did not adequately address a number of issues. These issues included the protection of drinking water catchments and water quality, the availability and reliability of water supplies, additional costs to communities, and climate change adaptation. Was a response received to that correspondence? If so, what did it say?

Mr BREWSTER - I can't recall the exact correspondence, but essentially that led to the meeting - the board asked that I meet with the head of DPIPWE. From recollection, I sat down with him, his deputy secretary, and general manager of asset management services, and we went through each of those points. As I explained earlier, it was agreed that we would become part of the round table, and that would give us the opportunity to work through our concerns with DPIPWE and come up with a solution that is best for the state. Again, that is how we are progressing it.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. With the draft Rural Water Use Strategy, I don't know if you talked to the minister about the fact that, on page 3 of the draft strategy, the issues that TasWater raised in its correspondence to the minister were referred to as being -

A small number of issues that were raised through the consultation process on the Rural Water Strategy Position Paper are outside of the scope of the Rural Water Use Strategy.

Do you think, following your conversation with the minister, that he understands that these aren't small issues raised by TasWater, and that they should not be outside the scope of the Rural Water Use Strategy?

Mr BREWSTER - I cannot comment. I was not there for the discussion with the minister about this. My discussion was with the head of DPIPWE. What someone's interpretation of 'small' is, is a matter for them.

As far as I am concerned, the head of DPIPWE was quite clear that we were going to be part of the process, and they would work through those issues with us, and that is the process that is happening. I have had no indication to date that there has been any change on behalf of DPIPWE. The minister has not raised it as an issue with us, in terms of working through those issues, so you would have to ask the minister for his version of it.

As far as I am concerned, DPIPWE has been working closely with us, and we get to be part of the solution. We are pretty happy with that as a way forward. We will make our position clear, and we have been. From what I understand, the focus is on how we work together.

Dr WOODRUFF - In his letter to the minister, Dr Gumley advocated for the development of an urban water strategy to supplement and complement the Rural Water Use Strategy. Has there been any progress on this matter, and if not, why not?

Mr BREWSTER - The response from Government is that they prefer to have one strategy that incorporates urban. We say, okay, as long as that is going to happen, we are in line with it and we will work with it. That was their call. We understand it. We offered to support writing that strategy. They felt - and I can understand it - that it was better done by the department, rather than us - which is why we come together in a round table and work through it that way.

Dr WOODRUFF - Does TasWater see that the Rural Water Use Strategy will become a rural and urban water use strategy?

Mr BREWSTER - Our expectation is that it would be a much broader review of water; that is how we are seeing it. Otherwise, why have us at the table? To be frank, we do not really care what it's labelled, as long as it is a holistic view of the state's future water needs. Would we have preferred to have something that said, Urban Water, Rural Water? Yes, of course we would. We did not get that, but as long as we are in there as part of the solution, and we are moving forward, I am okay with that.

Dr WOODRUFF - A rural water use strategy that does not deal with urban water at the same time will not be in the best interests of Tasmanians.

Mr BREWSTER - I agree, but we are dealing with it at the same time.


Mr BREWSTER - That is the whole part of being in a round table - that they do get brought in, and we do have a voice. That is why we have allocated our general manager to it. He is attending on a regular basis, and will continue to report back to the CEO and to the board. When meetings come, he reports back to the executive team, and we put a summary of that into the board report as things develop. I cannot comment how is that going to unfold. That is what I am told, so that is what I work to.

Dr WOODRUFF - Dr Gumley, I think Mr Brewster said earlier that he met with the head of DPIPWE to have a conversation about TasWater's concerns around the Rural Water Use Strategy. When was that meeting held?

Mr BREWSTER - Can I take this question on notice? It was probably at least six months ago. I can't recall but I'm happy to give you the exact date. It will be in my diary; my EA can pull it out.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will put that in writing. Thanks.

The final Rural Water Use Strategy was dated March 2021 and it was released in June 2021. Was the meeting before that strategy was released?

Mr BREWSTER - I can't recall, to be honest. I think it was but again I would have to see the date to be certain.

Dr WOODRUFF - The purpose of the round table is specifically to implement the Rural Water Use Strategy. You've talked about productive conversations at the round table that TasWater's involved in. The purpose of that round table is to implement the strategy. The strategy specifically excludes an urban water-use strategy so it is clear that the Government didn't take TasWater's concerns on board in relation to having a strategy to guide rural and urban water use. The strategy says:

Volumetric requirements for water supply and urban water demand and urban water restriction management are outside the scope of the Rural Water Use Strategy and are matters which are led by TasWater.

As a company, are you concerned that you weren't heard by the minister in terms of having a strategy to guide both rural and urban water use supply in the future?

Mr BREWSTER - I'm not concerned, because I sat with Tim and we went through these issues. I would be concerned if suddenly we turn up at future round table meetings and all of a sudden urban water is off the table. If the other things we put on were off the table regarding the whole-of-Tasmania approach. To date that's not been the case. I can only go on the process we're working through at the moment. At the moment we're included, we're having our say. If we thought it was heading in a direction that wasn't in the best interests of Tasmanians we would say it. I have no issue with saying it. I can only go on someone's word from the meeting we had with them. He's followed through and we're participating.

Dr WOODRUFF - I don't understand why a part publicly owned company is comfortable having words on paper which are specifically against what the words of the minister might be saying, or bureaucrats might be saying in conversation. The words on the page in the strategy say, 'Water quality management is not within the scope of the Rural Water Use Strategy'. Why is that okay with TasWater?

Mr BREWSTER - Because the proof will be in the pudding. I can only go on the discussions I said I had. I can't write the paper. I can't tell the minister what to write. I can only be clear with Tim, with DPIPWE, these are our concerns, this is what we think needs to happen. I was assured that we will have a voice and he followed through and we're attending now. If that position changes then we would express a view on that. At the moment, as long as we're a part of it, we're able to input into the broader strategy, I'm okay with it. From our perspective if they want to brand it something else, fine. I note your comment and I agree that implies that it's not there, but it's in there, otherwise there would be no point in us being there and we would not participate. We're participating on the basis that we have a say and that we're going to have a broad strategy. All of these things are connected.