Our river at risk?

"THE Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean is a one-stop shop for the communities, industries and landholders who rely on the Nepean River," said the Public Service Association's industrial officer, Geo Papas.

The office was established in 2009 and includes representatives of Sydney Water, the departments of Environment, Primary Industries and Planning and the Hawkesbury-Nepean and Sydney catchment authorities.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Office of Water said the organisation was planning to cut staff and relocate services throughout the state. "As part of these changes, the closure of the Office of Hawkesbury-Nepean has been proposed, with the transfer of staff from the Office of Hawkesbury-Nepean back to the NSW Office of Water," she said.

"This action is a proposed option only at this stage."

Mr Papas said such a decision would be short-sighted. "By getting rid of the Hawkesbury-Nepean office, all the workers will return to their different agencies and there'll be no co-ordinated management of the river," he said.

However, some of the river's regular users were divided about the office's usefulness.

Nepean River Tours operator Steve Defina said he did not believe the office had achieved anything. "When it opened I thought, you beauty, but they never followed anything up," he said. "They'd say they'd get back to us but they never did."

He said he once spoke to the office about a new weir causing water levels to drop in the river. "But they told me I didn't know what I was talking about. I think it'd be better to spend the money on the river instead of more bureaucrats."

But the Nepean Belle owner, John Wakeling, saw things differently. "I wouldn't like to see the office leave Penrith because it might weaken our access to vital information," he said.

"When heavy rains fall we might get some sort of flood, so we need to know what's happening to keep our vessels safe."

He said it was better to have people monitoring the river from nearby, than from an office in Sydney. "The closer you are to the action the more precise your action is."

Mr Papas hoped the government would reject any moves to close the office. "It seems at odds with the government talking about increasing services to the public," he said.

The Star contacted Penrith state MP Stuart Ayres for comment but got no response before press time.

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