Watershed breakthrough

STATE CHARGES

A GLIMMER of relief may finally be in sight for Tamworth residents facing water bill price shocks after a critical breakthrough in negotiations with the state government yesterday.

A new State Water pricing structure, currently being reviewed by the ACCC, could see Peel Valley water users charged up to 10 times more than other parts of the state and increase Tamworth Regional Council’s (TRC) bulk water costs by 107 per cent over three years.

Incensed councillors this week debated passing a motion of no confidence in the state government if a compromise could not be reached.

But in a watershed breakthrough yesterday afternoon, deputy premier Andrew Stoner agreed to consider a proposal to integrate the Peel and Namoi valleys for pricing purposes.

The move would effectively drive down the price of Peel water while slightly increasing the cost of water to Namoi users.

Mr Stoner, Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson, TRC mayor Col Murray and representatives from the Peel Valley Water User’s Association and Namoi Water accepted the proposal at the meeting.

Mr Anderson described it as a “watershed moment” for local water users.

“This is a watershed moment in redefining the price of water in the Peel Valley,” Mr Anderson said.

“This is the start of a process which will hopefully result in more equity.”

He said the move would also provide a “stay of execution” in the short term, with the ACCC unable to impose the new costs on the Peel when it hands down its determination next month.

The Peel Valley’s water sharing plan will now be reviewed by NSW Office of Water, a move that requires an act of government.

Mr Stoner said he hoped the compromise could prevent any further price shocks for Peel users.

“We’ll get the Office of  Water to look at it and if the results show there are no big losers, we’ll move to implement it,” Mr Stoner said.

“Shocks in the price of water are very significant for families, let alone irrigators.”

State Water CEO Brett Tucker said a move to implement postage stamp pricing across the state – where users of each valley pay a uniform price for water – was unlikely to be looked at.

“The challenge with postage stamp pricing is that people on the wrong side of the divide want to see it but those on the right side don’t,” Mr Tucker said.

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