Saturday, 26 November 2011

Major aquifer for Cairns plan put on ice

Daniel Strudwick
Friday, November 25, 2011
© The Cairns Post

A major project to secure Cairns' future water supply will be delayed another year to allow for more research into its environmental impacts as requested by community members.

The Mulgrave River aquifer project has been put on ice so more data can be collected during the 2012 dry season, potentially putting pressure on other water infrastructure to be fast-tracked.

The State Government and Cairns Regional Council both identified the Mulgrave River project as critical infrastructure, but have also flagged possible water extractions at Lake Placid and the Nullinga Dam project, west of Mareeba. Forecasts reveal the region’s water supply needs will exceed existing sources in the "short term to medium term", according to the State Government.

And the latest delay to the Mulgrave River Aquifer means another water source could still be years away. A panel of residents and industry stakeholders has told the council to shelve the project because of concerns the computer modelling used during the planning phase can’t accurately measure environmental impacts.

"With such a sensitive system of high community, biological and economic value, the risks of proceeding on the basis of the modelling alone remain too great from a community viewpoint," panel chairman Dr Allan Dale said. But the council will press ahead with the project planning anyway, agreeing to install new monitoring stations and bores around
Behana Creek to gather a year’s data about the project’s impacts during dry periods.

While council officers believe they could get the relevant approvals to start work on the Mulgrave River aquifer immediately, the council says it won’t commit to the project until the local community is on side too. "We’ve got the licence from the State Government but the community concerns go beyond what the State Government approval covers," the council’s general manager of water and waste, Bruce Gardiner, said. "They’re concerned about the social impacts and the potential agricultural impacts and we want to make a decision that everybody is happy with." He said the need for new water sources was "pressing".

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