Residents in a rural north-east Victorian community have taken their global campaign to stop water extraction in their region to Melbourne.
Delegates from the town of Stanley are demanding Asahi-Schweppes stops buying up and bottling their groundwater, and have delivered a 3,000-page petition with more than 125,000 signatures to the multinational’s Australian headquarters.
They have also delivered more than 1,200 letters to Premier Daniel Andrews, calling for changes to the Water and Planning Acts to give communities a greater say in how groundwater is used.
Each year in Stanley, 19 megalitres of groundwater can be extracted from a local property under licence.
It is carried in water tankers to Albury, where it is bottled for Asahi Beverages.
Residents of the town and Indigo Shire Council have been fighting the water extraction for more than five years.
Despite losing an appeal in the Supreme Court last year and being ordered to pay $90,000 in legal costs, the community is still pushing for new legislation to more tightly control their aquifers.
An industry ‘in need of review’
Six years ago, Geoffrey Fryer moved to the quiet community of Stanley.
Looking for a relaxed rural lifestyle, he has instead found himself part of a major community battle against the bottled water industry.
“The whole industry really needs to be reviewed,” he said.
“We need to understand what local communities can decide about their own control and interests in their local water.”
Signs on his property protest against what the locals have labelled “water mining”, and while it is permitted, he said it was not how their water should be used.
“To be taking water away from a place that has no backup [water] of any kind is really quite irresponsible and unethical in my view,” he said.
Next door, orchardist Henry Hilton has been making a living growing apples for more than 40 years.
The water extraction industry across the road has not had an effect on his farming practices or access to water, but he said he would prefer to see it being used on local farms.
Mr Hilton said Stanley’s battle against water extraction was the tip of the iceberg, and he called for the bottled water culture to be changed at a global level.
“Quite frankly if there wasn’t the demand for bottled water, these guys wouldn’t come here looking for agriculture water,” he said.
“Let’s get the Water Act changed so if they get a commercial licence, they won’t be allowed to use it for bottled water.”
Water Act should not discriminate, Minister says
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the Water Act should not be able to discriminate on the basis of proposed use, despite many calling for the act to be changed.
“Decisions on the extraction of groundwater take into account any potential impact on the groundwater resource or environment,” she said.
“These decisions consider the effect it will have on the resource, and the extraction near Stanley is only 0.5 per cent of the overall water resource available for extraction.
“The Government has also made sure Victorian water corporations have the most up-to-date and accurate modelling on the impacts of climate change, so they can factor that into their planning and assessment of permits for water extraction.”
Site not one of Asahi’s primary water sources
Asahi said in a statement it responsibly managed its water sources to ensure the impact on communities and the environment was minimised.
“The water source we use comes from a bore on a property which is owned by a third-party supplier,” the statement read.
“The property has a licence for 19mL of ground water to be used per year, and current usage by Asahi Beverages falls well below this.”
The company said it undertook regular audits to ensure its suppliers’ sites operated within licensing and sustainability requirements.
“This site is audited annually by an independent third-party auditor. This is not one of our primary water sources, and is used only as needed.”
The company has also stated it employs local drivers and services, making a contribution to the small town.