2019 state election: Cootamundra candidates have their say on water supply

Stephanie Cooke (Nationals), Mark Douglass (Labor), Jim Saleam (Ind), Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers), Jeffery Passlow (Greens). Not pictured: Joseph Costello (Sustainable Australia)
Stephanie Cooke (Nationals), Mark Douglass (Labor), Jim Saleam (Ind), Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers), Jeffery Passlow (Greens). Not pictured: Joseph Costello (Sustainable Australia)

Jim Saleam calls for jailing of water thieves

Independent candidate for Cootamundra Jim Saleam is calling on a "social wage" for farmers, the jailing of "water thieves" and subsidised filters for residents to reduce the impact of water shortages along the Lachlan Valley and for residents living in Grenfell and Young.

In reply to a question from the Young Witness regarding the future security of our water supply and Coalition plans to increase the wall height at Wyangala Dam, Mr Saleam said "of course, we must keep our people on the land".

"There has been too much extraction all along the Murray Darling Basin system much via corruption involving present political identities," he claimed.

"Resulting algae blooms are causing motor-neuron disease, fish death - and these curses will spread."

Mr Saleam also believes "future water use plans are linked to gold, copper and csg mining, not even agriculture.

"These are killers. Mining must be ruthlessly curbed and agricultural water-extraction must be balanced against environmental regeneration."

Mr Saleam's comments followed a Cowra Guardian, Young Witness and Grenfell Record poll which revealed water as the second most important issue to voters as they consider who to vote for in the March 23 State election.

The Young Witness put the following to candidates: The Coalition has announced it prefers to increase the capacity of Wyangala further. Will you support this or do something else and what action would you take to secure water supply for farmers and residents of Grenfell and Young?

Stephanie Cooke (Nationals), Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers), Jeffery Passlow (Greens), Jim Saleam (Independent) and Mark Douglass (Labor) all replied.

A new candidate, Joseph Costello, has since entered the race for the Sustainable Australia Party.

Mr Saleam is also calling for the termination of cotton production "before the Basin resembles the Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union".

"The policy of manipulation of the topography means a type of cleansing of the current population to make way for mass mining and its cheap labour sources.

"Mining challenges our local physical and economic well-being," he said.

Mr Saleam went on to say John Cobb, the former National Party Member for Calare had linked better dams in the Cowra area to ‘the mining that will happen’ for ‘investors’ and ‘more connecting infrastructure’.

"This was at least – truthful," Mr Saleam said.

"Of course, we must keep our people on the land," he said before stating "the idea of a social wage that can maintain farmers and graziers if water allocations are cut and before regular production can be fully resumed, must be considered."

"Those who have stolen water must be imprisoned and costs recovered against their assets.

"Filters should be subsidised to offset bad pipes and poor supply in our towns," he added.

Sitting Member for Cootamundra Stephanie Cooke said the NSW Nationals have announced a number of measures to increase water security in the Cootamundra electorate including $650 million to raise the dam wall at Wyangala and $850,000 to begin planning for a pipeline from Lake Rowlands to Carcoar dam to transfer surplus water between the two storages.

"The NSW Liberals and Nationals are standing shoulder to shoulder with water users and Council to enhance water security," Ms Cooke said.

"The Nationals’ flagship $1 billion Safe and Secure Water Program is available to help Hilltops Council to provide a safe and secure water supply to the Hilltops region," Ms Cooke said.

"We have recently increased the amount of technical support available to all councils, increased the amount of funding available as well as making it quicker and easier to apply for funding.

"I know that Hilltops Council is proactive in looking at potential projects - if a project stacks up I will back it all the way. I have been supportive of the Harden-Boorowa pipeline which has received planning funding, and I advocate as strongly for smaller communities as I do for larger ones.

"The NSW Nationals are committed to water in the bush and we have taken the bold step of creating a new role to make sure water issues are addressed appropriately. The newly appointed NSW Regional Town Water Supply Coordinator, James McTavish, and I have worked together before and I welcome him to the role.

"His pedigree is firmly established and I have no doubt that his contributions will have a significant positive effect on water security in the Cootamundra electorate.

"As your local member I will advocate on behalf of Hilltops Council to secure funding for local projects. I have a strong track record on securing funding for water security projects and I will continue to lobby hard for the needs of our communities," Ms Cooke said.

Country Labor candidate Mark Douglass has described raising the Wyangala Wall as a short term fix and the actions of the Nationals as destructive.

"The Nationals are promoting destructive “farmers versus the rest” class war over scarce water resources," Mr Douglass said.

"The drought is the enemy, climate change is the enemy, leaderless government is the enemy.

"Raising the wall at Wyangala may well be a good short-term fix but in a drought all dams go dry.

"Various options have been thrown about from desalination plants that pump water over the divide or the Australia dams project that captures water up north and puts it in the Darling river system.

"Also 30% of the water removed from the Murray goes to Melbourne and suggestions include ramping up their desalination to ease Murray river over-allocation."

Mr Douglass said the starting point in finding a solution to our water issues "for Labor is an objective review of the Murray Darling river plan, then to get on with solving the problem.

"Vision and leadership gave us the largest infrastructure program in Australia’s history, the Snowy Mountains Scheme.  

"In 1949 our state and federal leaders came together and again we need leadership to solve this generational water challenge.

"The cities have desalination plants to solve their water shortages it’s time to solve this rural challenge," Mr Douglass said.

Matt Stadtmiller Shooters and Fishers candidate, has cast doubt over the Coalition's ability to deliver on a project as big as raising the Wyangala wall.

"The Coalition have been unable to keep the waterslides open," Mr Stadtmiller pointed out describing the National Liberal government as "desperate".

"The coaltion are desperate to hold onto the seat of Cootamundra after the swing away from the Nationals during the by-election," Mr Stadtmiller said.

"We support infrastructure projects which protect our water and or provide for greater capacity.

"However, the coalition have been unable to keep the waterslides open at Wyangala Dam.

"This shows that they can't keep the simplest of infrastructure operational.

"The mismanagement of the Murray Darling Basin Scheme and the death of millions of fish highlight the Nationals inability to look after our water ways.

"They let down farmers and townsfolk.

"The Nationals continue to attempt to buy votes with big announcements which lack detail, including the Cowra Hospital and the wall.

"It disappointing that these announcements have been left so late.

"They have had eight years and three weeks out (from the State election) they announce.

"Clean water is a human right and yet there are many people within the electorate and NSW who don't have access to it.

"The focus needs to shift to clean water for human consumption.

"If Government can't get that right what can they do? It's time the NSW government made it a priority," he said.

Greens candidate Jeffery Passlow  said "only Cowra (and surrounds in the Cootamundra electorate)  will benefit from raising the dam wall height at Wyangala, Young's supply is from the Burrinjuck dam (Murrumbidgee River) and Grenfell's supply is from Lake Rowlands.

"It seems, from the point of view of the Cootamundra Electorate, possibly a short sighted and selfish one, that there is not a lot of value for money to be had by increasing the capacity of Wyangala Dam".

Mr Passlow added however that support for the Wyangala wall project "might be forthcoming" if

" Major pipeline work were done so that the three centres (Cowra, Young and Grenfell) were serviced by it, or;

"Increasing the Wyangala capacity was to bring about a significant increase in Hydro-electric generating capacity;

"The land loss (flooding as a result of the wall height increase) provided a commensurate benefit in water supply stability combined with hydro benefits and;

"Rigorous environmental impact studies were done and resulted in a negative or very minimal suggested result (that is for instance, animals were of a sort that could easily migrate or that no endangered species would be impacted), not just a rubber stamp to suggest that some botanist or biologist had wandered around the proposed impacted area,

"If all of the above conditions were met, then support might be forthcoming.

"Other than that, I am sure that people with more knowledge than I, have looked at the question of providing water to the area in question and seem not able to give a suitable answer at this time.

"I find it difficult to comment further other than to note that cotton farming is being undertaken in an area serviced by Wyangala Dam.

"While it may be a profitable crop, growing it consumes a hell of a lot of water.

"That is something else to be considered when the question of approval of what will be a very expensive project," Mr Passlow said.

Next edition: Question 4: Access to air services is an issue that has fallen off the radar at all three centres as they have been without a regular service for many years. What, if any, steps would you take to attract air services back to Cowra and Young? Grenfell would benefit by having closer access to a service at either centre.