NSW accused of jeopardising Sydney’s water supply with decision to axe firefighters

NSW National Parks staff are preparing to rally outside NSW parliament over job losses in the parks service

The quality of Sydney’s water supply could be put at risk by a decision to axe a specialist team of firefighters from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, which currently patrols the vast catchment surrounding Sydney’s dams, the union representing parks staff says.

WaterNSW, which manages the catchment on behalf of the NSW government, has confirmed it is ending its contract with National Parks for firefighting services at the end of this summer.

Instead it will use firefighters from the Rural Fire Service to defend the half a million hectare area that makes up the Warragamba special area.

The move to dismantle the specialist firefighting team based at Nepean dam has outraged National Parks staff. The team is trained in remote area firefighting and rescue operations in the largely inaccessible area.

Public Service Association of NSW organiser Kim de Govrik said the decision would mean the loss of 20 years of expertise in protecting the catchment, which supplies water to 5 million Sydneysiders.

“What happens to the quality of drinking water for 5 million people if there is a fire?” he said.

Fires and firefighting could potentially put the water quality at risk as it could lead to greater erosion after a fire, ash contamination and possibly chemical contamination, depending on what methods are used to fight blazes, he said.

A spokesman for WaterNSW said: “WaterNSW recognises bushfire as a potential risk to water quality and detrimental to its environmental objectives in Sydney’s drinking water catchment.”

“As such, each fire season WaterNSW contracts firefighting expertise to conduct a rapid-fire response service in the special areas within Sydney’s drinking water catchment.

“WaterNSW can confirm its intention to enlist the services of the NSW Rural Fire Service and their expertise for the next fire season.”

WaterNSW said they would not be using volunteers.

With the NSW election due in March, environmental issues and national parks are shaping as an point of differentiation between Labor and the Coalition.

NSW National Parks staff are preparing to hold a media conference with the opposition leader, Michael Daley, on Thursday over job losses in the parks service.

The Public Service Association of NSW general secretary, Stewart Little, said one in three park rangers had been cut under the Coalition government.

“We’ve lost 100 of 300 ranger positions, at a time when money is washing around the state’s coffers,” he said.

Instead the government has been hiring more junior field officers, which has allowed it to claim that park staff numbers remain the same.


Original article published by The Guardian, 13 December 2018.