At their last ordinary council meeting last Thursday, 27 October, the Yass Valley Council discussed the important topic of their Water Source Strategy to identify the preferred option for additional water sources when supply capacity from Yass Dam is reached.

Yass Valley Council’s preferred water source option is supply from the ACT. Three recommendations made at the meeting are as follows:

1. The preferred strategy of additional water source from Canberra to meet the future growth of Yass Valley be endorsed.

2. Works towards achieving an agreement in principle for water supply from Canberra commenced with stakeholders.

3. A water supply pipeline from the ACT to Murrumbateman be endorsed as a legacy project to offset the loss of rate revenue in any discussions and negotiations associated with a move of the NSW/ACT border in the Parkwood area.

The need for a water source strategy came from a long background of issues surrounding the Yass Valley. “Water supply in Yass Valley suffered from severe restrictions during the millennium drought. In 2006, Council made the decision to increase the capacity of the Yass Dam to rectify the short and medium term water supply issues,” the latest Yass Valley Council Business Paper stated.

“Council also recognised that the long-term water supply strategy is a pipeline from Canberra. Yass Dam was raised in 2013, increasing the capacity of the Yass Dam from 800ML to 2,464ML.

Yass dam overflowing 2022-Picture-Judith Perkins

“For the forecasted population growth in Yass Valley outlined in both the South East & Tablelands Regional Strategy and the Yass Valley Settlement Strategy 2017 the need for an alternate water supply was identified if the growth potential was to be realised. The Settlement Strategy identifies two main potential sources for an additional supply; from Canberra water infrastructure and from Burrinjuck Dam.

“In October 2019, Council received funding from Safe & Secure Water Program to update its existing Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) Strategy dated 2007. IWCM is a 30-year strategy and financial plan for the provision of appropriate, affordable, cost-effective and sustainable urban water services to meet community needs and protect public health and the environment.

“Preparation of IWCM is a Best-Practice Management requirement under Water Supply and Sewerage Framework and has a longer time frame for its preparation.

“Identification of an additional source for water supply is critical for the long-term development of Yass Valley. Without this study the future development as envisaged in the Yass Valley Settlement Strategy could not take place once the limit of supply capacity of Yass Dam is reached.

“Considering the urgency to identify a preferred water source to commence water source development, Council approved funds to complete Water Source Strategy Study in August 2021.”

Like Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC), Yass Valley Council sees water from Canberra as the answer to future water security and unlock the full potential of its settlement strategy, a $25+ million dollar pipeline legacy project in lieu of land, taxes/rates in perpetuity.

Several councillors weighed in on the debate, including Murrumbateman-based councillor Kristin Butler “I’ve been talking about how we would get water to Murrumbateman for many years now. In a nutshell, what we’re talking about is trading land for a pipeline. We will give you this land and you will build us a pipleline,” Cr Butler said.

“Has there been any forward-thinking into the financial implications on the residents of Yass Valley at this point, in terms of the upkeep of this pipeline, how much it’ll cost and what the rates will look like after this is built? “I’m fully supportive of this but I thought that would be a worthy question, we probably don’t know all the ins and outs of that at the moment.”

Yass Valley councillor Kim Turner also raised some points regarding the Water Source Strategy. “It’s probably worth noting too that all of Queanbeyan’s water comes from the ACT and their water rates are comparable to the ACT’s rates.

“It’s [Yass’ Water Source Strategy] been a big issue for a very long time. In my lifetime, we have looked at options A, B, C and D. Taking water from Burrinjuck, taking water from Jugiong uphill then pumping it back down the pipeline from Binalong. We’ve looked at just about every solution that is possibly there. This has been a pipe dream for the Yass Council for a very long time.

“We now have the opportunity of actually locking in, in perpetuity, a legacy program for Yass. I am absolutely staggered at the negativity that this might not happen. It’s our responsibility to make it happen.

“I urge you [Yass councillors] to vote for this motion, lock it in and stop all the bickering we’ve had over 30 years. “We can take water from Burrinjuck, guess what? We’d take our water supply below the sewage, but you don’t take it from below the sewage of 500,000 people who are currently pumping pathogens into potentially our water supply. We need to take it from above them and let gravity do its thing.”

The Water Source Strategy is certainly a topic that will be hanging around for a while longer yet.

Tim Warren