There has been a mixed response to news that a new Great Artesian Basin plan, incorporating water trading, came into operation at the beginning of September.
The over-riding concern of producer representatives has been for sufficient funds to complete the capping and piping of the last 180 bores, to save 80,000ML running away each year in Queensland.
AgForce’s water spokesman, Kim Bremner, said they supported the state government’s plan but it wouldn’t be complete until the federal government contributed a lot more money.
Basin Sustainability Alliance chairman, Lee McNicholl said that only 70 per cent of the work in correcting a “massive environmental legacy problem” had been done, and was most annoyed that “the hapless taxpayer has spent $400m to plug the GAB while irresponsible short-sighted governments want to unsustainably drain it once more”.
He was referring to the coal seam gas and mining industries, which he said were encouraged by the state government to drill unlimited gas wells and bores, extracting unlimited amounts of water from the basin in the process.
Natural Resources Minister, Anthony Lynham said the new plan gave farmers incentives to meet a 10-year deadline to deal with the remaining free-flowing bores and drains.
“The new Great Artesian Basin and Other Regional Aquifers water plan offers landholders 30pc of the water they save when they cap bores and pipe drains,” he said. “This will preserve water for future generations as well as providing critical water to allow landholders to grow their businesses and create jobs.”
The plan makes water trading more flexible by, for the first time, allowing water licence holders in highly developed areas such the eastern Darling Downs to trade water to encourage economic development in less developed areas such as the Eromanga, Surat and Carpentaria Basins.
Mr McNicholl didn’t believe that was a reasonable incentive.
“The minister’s suggestion that new water trading rules will encourage intensive ag to relocate from the Darling Downs to the heatwave-prone Eromanga Basin is totally farcical and shows how out of touch he and his advisers really are,” he said.
Mr McNicholl added that only 840ML was left in the Surat Cumulative Management Area to trade, “thanks to historical over-allocation and unlimited take” by the petroleum and gas industry.
Mr Bremner thought water trading, which can be done in other water management systems in the state, was a reasonable encouragement, but said it wasn’t for everyone, depending on the quality of water, and so was limited in scope.
“The real problem is, we need $75m to finish the job (capping and piping),” he said. “The federal government has provided $8m so far, and that took 18 months of fighting to get.”
The Queensland plan makes available a total of 39,505 megalitres of unallocated water reserves across the plan area.
Dr Lynham said about 80,000ML were wasted annually in the Queensland section of the GAB through uncontrolled bores.
He believed the new plan meant that enough water to fill 32,000 Olympic swimming pools could be saved every year.
Dr Lynham laid claim to the rehabilitation of 700 uncontrolled flowing bores, and the replacement of more than 14,000km of bore drains with piping, under the joint Commonwealth-state Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative, saving 207,205ML per annum.
Mr McNicholl said that needed clarifying, and that 715 Queensland bores had been capped, 365 of them prior to the GABSI initiative beginning and 350 since then.
“There are 180 bores to go,” he said. “The bottom line is, the four GABSI funding rounds have done 350 of 520 bores, or 70pc of the job.”
The basin provides water for more than 80 regional Queensland towns and grazing, cropping, feedlot, mining, tourism and geothermal power industries from Thargomindah in the south-west to Weipa in the far north.
The new plan replaces the first Great Artesian Basin water plan adopted in 2006, and has been informed by science-based technical assessments and extensive community consultation; including with the Great Artesian Basin Advisory Council.
Dr Lynham thanked the council, and particularly outgoing chair Roderick Gilmour OAM for his service over more than a decade.