Start­ing to pre­pare for a fu­ture with less wa­ter

The Western Star - - Rural Weekly - Rory Ross Se­nior As­so­ciate Shine Lawyers Dalby

WA­TER is­sues will be a ma­jor concern well into the fu­ture and in­di­vid­ual land­hold­ers need to be get­ting across them now, if they aren’t al­ready.

New wa­ter and wa­ter re­source plans, in­creas­ing de­mands from many sec­tors, a rag­ing drought, pre­dic­tions of a drier fu­ture, and the tragedy of some towns in the Mur­ray sys­tem al­ready run­ning out of wa­ter are plac­ing im­mense pres­sure on the sys­tem.

To start, it ap­pears the Com­mon­wealth wa­ter buy­back ten­der process will fall short of the wa­ter recovery goal for the Con­damine Al­lu­vium aquifer. If so, the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment may seek to re­duce the nom­i­nal en­ti­tle­ment of particular ground­wa­ter li­cences to bridge any re­main­ing gap to reach that goal.

That would be fa­cil­i­tated by the new Con­damine-Balonne Wa­ter Plan. The re­duc­tion of nom­i­nal en­ti­tle­ments isn’t the only chal­lenge farm­ers face.

On the CSG front, it’s pre­dicted Ar­row will with­draw 63 gi­gal­itres (mid-case) from its ten­ure on the Con­damine Al­lu­vium over its pro­jected time frame.

To try to off­set the im­pacts, Ar­row has sug­gested it might of­fer wa­ter off-take agree­ments to sup­ply treated CSG wa­ter for use in lieu of wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions. The devil will be in the de­tail. Ar­row’s track record with wa­ter is­sues hasn’t been great. It orig­i­nally ar­gued it would have lit­tle to no im­pact on the Con­damine Al­lu­vium.

Fur­ther­more, while some ben­e­fi­cial use ar­range­ments seem to have been “ben­e­fi­cial”, oth­ers have fallen well short of land­hold­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions.

It is also be­ing sug­gested that treated CSG wa­ter can be re-in­jected di­rectly into the Con­damine Al­lu­vium aquifer.

Although the CSIRO think re-in­jec­tion is achiev­able in ap­pro­pri­ate ar­eas, both they and ba­sic re­search shows the need for cau­tion.

Given the ex­cep­tional im­por­tance of wa­ter these days, surely a truly in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific panel should guide that process – if it is to go ahead. There may not be a sec­ond chance. In­jected wa­ter can it­self con­tam­i­nate. So who will mon­i­tor? Ar­row has also sug­gested it might buy wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions to off­set im­pacts or of­fer com­pen­sa­tion for im­pacts to ground­wa­ter by way of the “Make Good” regime.

Buy­ing wa­ter will in­crease com­pe­ti­tion and that may well mean that smaller, “fam­ily farm” op­er­a­tions that are cru­cial to many lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties may strug­gle to com­pete with cor­po­rates or gas and min­ing com­pa­nies on price. That is al­ready hap­pen­ing in NSW.

Make Good also brings its own com­pli­ca­tions. There is no easy wa­ter avail­able in a grow­ing num­ber of ar­eas – and Make Good is no an­swer to pre­serv­ing agricultur­e in the long run in some ar­eas.

In the rapidly chang­ing field of wa­ter reg­u­la­tion there is much hap­pen­ing.

It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand your po­si­tion as far as pos­si­ble ahead of time.

The re­duc­tion of nom­i­nal en­ti­tle­ments isn’t the only chal­lenge farm­ers face.

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