Indigo residents claim it is an issue of morality that the legal practice of extracting water from Stanley’s bores for bottle should be stopped.
About 150 people attended a public forum in Beechworth on Thursday night – most who opposed the business of water supply company Black Mount Spring Water, which sold the water to Albury company Asahi.
Company owner Tim Carey had avoided facing the angry public in the past, but attended the meeting to explain why his company would not be going away.
He answered multiple questions, but despite calls for respectful debate, was told at one point to just “sit down” and disagreements broke out between him and others at the meeting.
Many of the concerns came from a belief that Black Mount Spring Water’s extraction took water away from other agricultural uses.
Huw Kingston, who led his hometown of Bundanoon in the NSW Southern Highlands to become the world's first bottled water-free community, was the forum’s guest speaker and said he believed water extraction companies were not charged enough in licence costs, considering the profits made from the water.
“I think we play those aquifers at our peril – until we’ve got some cast iron guarantee or way of know that when we pump out for bottled water … we don’t really know yet exactly what’s happening underground,” he said.
Indigo mayor Jenny O’Connor, Alpine mayor Ron Janas and Towong mayor Aaron Scales all attended the meeting and have united to push the Victorian government to grant councils more control over water operations.
“It’s been an issue that the community has raised with us,” Cr O’Connor said.
“We keep hitting brick walls with legislation that doesn’t address this issue.”
Cr Janas said the cost of road maintenance was always increasing with more trucks, such as those used by water extraction companies.
“We have to be very careful that those costs are not all borne by the ratepayers and that’s important because we don’t necessarily get anything back for it, but we do provide that service” he said.
“We are concerned this is a growing industry, and more and more farms are being taken up for the use of water extraction.”
Water extractor tells his side
Tim Carey has denied his water extraction business is taking resources away from any other agricultural uses.
Speaking to the media after Thursday’s forum, the Black Mount Spring Water owner said he wanted to correct the record because his company did good work in the community, but criticism had got out of hand.
“The places that we use to extract the water are all fully licensed, there are have been enormous hydrological studies done on them and they’ve all proven that they’re sustainable resources,” he said.
“If (Goulburn Murray Water) had any issues, they would stop us straight away.”
Monitoring bores are used to regularly keep an eye on the aquifer.
Black Mount Spring Water started in Buffalo Creek about eight years ago and recently built a bicycle track in the area so bikes and pedestrians could be kept away from trucks.
But the company faced opposition when expanding three years ago.
“We probably picked the wrong area in Stanley, there’s some very tenacious people in Stanley,” Mr Carey said.
“We came here with the greatest of intentions to be part of the community, we’ve never bee invited to be part of that community – they’ve had their backs up the moment we arrived here.”
He will make a submission to the councils’ plans to change regulations, but does not expect the business to be affected.
“There’s one or two bits I’m a little concerned with … in general I actually think it’s a good idea to have a planning framework around these water extracting sites – it’s just got to be fair and logical, it can’t prohibit businesses establishing” he said