By Alex Ramsey, Partner & Brianna Hockey, Lawyer     

The Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan (Plan) is a strategy between the Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory Governments to regulate the Great Artesian Basin until 2033. As the largest underground freshwater resource in the world and with approximately 70% of it located in Queensland, the Plan is of critical importance to communities of irrigators, farmers and graziers who rely upon groundwater drawn from the Basin.

The Plan has already achieved significant milestones in Queensland since 2000 including the capping of over 400 bores, installation of 12,500 kilometres of pipes and the introduction of water efficiency measures which save more than 140,000 megalitres of water from evaporation each year.

The latest revisions to the Plan are expected to recommend new water saving measures to regulate groundwater and with the consultation period for submissions now closed, the new Plan will be released early in 2019.

We expect the recommendations will focus on the following issues:

Stock and domestic water

  • The possibility that volumetric limits will be imposed on stock and domestic water entitlements has been challenged by a number of submitters. The argument against doing so is that arbitrary limits would fail to take into account the purpose for which water is being drawn and the carrying or productive capacity of the land. We do not expect that the usual entitlements to draw stock and domestic water will be changed by the new Plan.

Continued support for capping and piping

  • The continuation of funding for landholders to cap and pipe flowing bores will be addressed. In the submission made by AgForce it was noted that the Plan should not impose penalties for non compliance with water efficiency targets, but rather continue to fund the capping and piping program and provide training to landholders to more effectively manage their water entitlements.

Water trading and information sharing

  • A cross-basin water trading market is possible under the new Plan. In Queensland, the Water Act 2000 already allows for water allocations to be issued unattached to land and for the trade of water within water regions. The new Plan could establish a way forward for these entitlements to be traded across regions and states.
  • Also, the Plan will likely address the need for public access to detailed water use information within the Basin. We expect that there will be a recommendation for meters to be installed on some classes of bores and in some regions to address non-compliance issues which have arisen as a political topic in recent years.

While the new Plan will not be binding on the Queensland Government, it will be influential in shaping the policy of water regulation and affect how water is drawn and used from the Basin. We will continue to monitor the progress of the new Plan and its effect on water users.

This information is intended to provide a general summary only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice.

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