25 May 2024

Yass Council bid for crucial water works funding rejected due to paperwork error

| Sally Hopman
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Boil water alert sign

Yass Valley residents were advised to boil their water back in February. Photo: Sally Hopman.

The latest bid to remedy the long-running Yass water saga was rejected because the Yass Valley Council submitted its business case for government funding in “draft” form.

Rather than submitting an “official” business case, the Yass submission had the word “draft” written on it so was deemed unacceptable, according to the council’s general manager Chris Berry.

“We were told that because it was in draft format, it did not qualify to move on to the next stage,” he said, adding, “They told us it had not gone through the endorsement process.

“To the credit of the funding body, they did say we had a great submission … the only problem was that it was in draft form.”

The council held an extraordinary meeting last Wednesday (15 May), which was closed to the public, where Mr Berry said a final business case was endorsed. He said this document included details of issues some of the community was facing.

“To add more colour to it, we submitted lots of media clips to highlight the fact the community was not happy with our water supply,” he said. “We’re now waiting with bated breath for the funding body to give it a tick.”

Concern has been raised in Yass that one of the reasons for the delay in fixing the water problem has been government red tape.

READ ALSO Yass Valley water woes continuing as system flushing starts

Although the required funding comes from the Federal Government, the council must first present its business case to the NSW Government for consideration.

Speaking on Canberra radio (2CC) recently, the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, Kristy McBain, said the Federal Government was “working with the states and territories because they’re responsible for water in each jurisdiction”.

“The frustration for so many locals is that this is just taking too long.

“The paperwork side of things gets in the way of actual action on the ground for the community. Absolutely, I understand the frustration.”

The problem with water quality in Yass, and the surrounding villages of Binalong, Bowning and Murrumbateman, is that it has an ageing filtration plant which has not been upgraded in almost 35 years. Meanwhile, the population of the Yass Valley has grown rapidly, with existing infrastructure unable to keep pace. The recent floods also affected the water quality.

READ ALSO Yass residents threaten to boycott water rates as boil water alert continues

Every time there is heavy rain, the filtering process is overwhelmed and can’t get rid of contanimants from the Yass River. This results in significant levels of turbidity — with discoloured and smelly water coming out of taps.

The situation escalated in February when the council recommended that Yass Valley residents boil all drinking water, with the alert remaining in place for more than two weeks.

The council was criticised at the time for only alerting residents via social media and signs at the entry and exit to the town. Many older residents and people who lived in the outlying villages complained they had not been told.

It is understood that it will cost almost $37 million to fix the town’s water filtration plant. About $17 million has already been secured, but if the full amount can’t be reached, the shortfall will have to be made up through increased water rates.

Mr Berry said if the current business case was accepted, the impact on future rates would be minimal. If unsuccessful, “we will have to go to Plan B and that will have an impact on water bills”.

“We are so committed to this project that if we are unsuccessful, we will have to look to loan funds to make sure we can deliver the project.”

READ ALSO Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink … if you live in the Yass Valley

The council has already taken out a $50 million loan to build a new council chambers and library precinct. Mr Berry said that money could not be used for the water treatment plant.

President of the Yass Business Chamber, Jack Walker, said there was definite frustration in the community about the water, with many people feeling, “enough is enough”.

He said the boil water alerts had a definite impact on the business community, with some cafes and restaurants reporting increased cleaning costs and loss of business.

“The main frustration has been the politicisation of the issue,” he said. “People are sick of it, they just want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, they’ll see that with this latest submission.

“Everyone wants to see this grant succeed so we can get this water filter upgrade delivered for the Yass community.”

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