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Shine Lawyers | Water

Starting to prepare for a future with less water

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.

Orignally published in Rural Weekly

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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 26, 2019.

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