Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012; In Committee

9:24 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move amendment (2) relating to ground water on sheet 7310:

(2) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 23), after item 9, insert:

9A After subsection 22(9)


(9A) The Basin Plan must not allow any increase to ground water extraction unless:

  (a) the proposed ground water extraction has been assessed using a regional scale, multi-layer, transient groundwater flow model that is linked to existing surface water models and demonstrates the impact of the proposed ground water extraction on:

     (i) surface water systems and flows; and

     (ii) ground water dependent ecosystems; and

     (iii) the long-term sustainability of the aquifer; and

  (b) the assessment takes into account the cumulative impact of all existing ground water extractions and the proposed ground water extraction; and

  (c) if the proposed ground water extraction will cause a reduction in surface water—the quantity of ground water to be extracted will be offset through the purchase, by or on behalf of the Commonwealth, of water rights to an equivalent quantity of surface water.

(3) Schedule 1, item 10, page 6 (line 18), at the end of subsection 23A(2), add:

; and (e) a requirement for the Authority not to propose an adjustment under paragraph (1)(a) or (b) without:

  (i) undertaking modelling of the environmental impacts of the proposed adjustment using an integrated water model that takes into account the best available science including the most recent knowledge about climate change, ground water and the environmental water requirements of key environmental assets and key ecosystem functions of the water resource; and

  (ii) publicly releasing the modelling along with a plain language assessment of the environmental outcomes modelled, including in relation to ground water and the environmental water requirements of key environmental assets and key ecosystem functions of the water resource.

(4) Schedule 1, item 10, page 6 (lines 29 to 33), omit subsection 23A(4), substitute:

   Limit on proposed adjustments

(4) One or more adjustments may be proposed by the Authority under paragraph (1)(a), and an adjustment may be proposed under paragraph (1)(b) as a result of those adjustments, only if the adjustment under paragraph (1)(b) would not have the effect of reducing the volume of water available for the environment.

(5) Schedule 1, item 10, page 9 (after line 30), after subsection 23B(6), insert:

(6A) The Minister must not adopt the amendment unless the Minister is satisfied that, if the amendment is made:

  (a) the long-term average sustainable diversion limit will continue to reflect an environmentally sustainable level of take; and

  (b) Australia's international obligations under the Ramsar Convention will be upheld; and

  (c) the long-term average sustainable diversion limit will maintain or improve the following environmental outcomes:

     (i) in relation to average daily salinity levels for Lake Alexandrina—less than 1500EC at all times and less than 1000EC for 95% of the time;

     (ii) in relation to average daily salinity levels for Coorong, South Lagoon—must not exceed 100 grams per litre in any 2 consecutive years and must remain less than 100 grams per litre for 96% of the time;

     (iii) in relation to barrage flows—greater than 2000 gigalitres per year on a 3 year rolling basis, with a minimum of 650 gigalitres per year for 95% of years, greater than 600 gigalitres in any 2 year period and greater than zero gigalitres in all years;

     (iv) in relation to the mouth of the River Murray—the mouth to be open to an average annual depth of 1 metre or more for at least 95% of years and to an average annual depth of 0.7 metres or more for at least 95% of years;

     (v) the environmental outcomes met under an integrated, Basin-wide, fit for purpose model run based on the levels of extraction contained in the BP-3200-RC model run and the 112 hydrologic indicator targets.

This amendment is very important to ensure that, whatever the details are of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan when it is tabled in this place next week by the minister, we do not see just a grab-all for the allowed increased extraction of groundwater without the knowledge of the impact that that groundwater—

The CHAIRMAN: Order! Senators, if you wish to remain in the chamber please do so, but quietly; otherwise, please exit the chamber quietly.

The purpose of this amendment is to adhere to a precautionary principle which would require an appropriate review to be undertaken to ensure that there cannot be an increase in groundwater extraction without the full knowledge of the impact that that is going to have on the surface water, the connectivity issues of recharge rates and the impact on ecologies drawing on the groundwater. It would look at the proposed extraction in the light of all other existing groundwater extractions and if the proposed extraction reduces surface water it would require the Commonwealth to ensure that they buy back the equivalent amount. This is important because we know that there is going to be a level set in the basin plan of 2,750 gigalitres. Yet there is also an allowance for an increase in groundwater extraction, to 1,700 gigalitres. When you add them together you find that there is a much smaller amount of water that is going to be returned to the river. And no-one knows quite what the direct connectivity and impact of the increase of groundwater extraction is going to have on the surface water.

The CSIRO has said that this is of concern. We know that the National Water Commission has said that it is a concern and that unless otherwise established it should be assumed that all surface and groundwater systems are connected and that the eventual impact of groundwater pumping on surface water flow may be as high as 100 per cent. The Commonwealth's own National Water Commission suggests that it could be as high as 100 per cent, so if we allowed a return to the environment of 2,750 gigalitres, yet at exactly the same time we allowed an increased extraction rate of groundwater of up to 1,700 gigalitres, it would not leave much water, at the end of the day, to be given back to the river.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority have not looked at this properly. They have ignored the advice of the National Water Commission. Indeed, looking at some of the previous positions taken by Mr Burke, they have even been ignoring his advice in relation to his previous concerns about the impact of groundwater extraction in areas such as Queensland and the expansion of coal-seam gas development there. Last year the minister required that Queensland had to develop a regional-scale, multilayer transient groundwater flow model of the cumulative effects of multiple CSG development. This is the minister's own precedent, that you cannot just pump gigalitre after gigalitre after gigalitre of water out of the watertable in groundwater extraction without understanding the impact that that is going to have as to the connectivity of surface water and other systems. This is what this amendment is saying: unless we know what the impact is going to be and unless we can account for the impact that it will have on the overall return rate to the environment, then we should not be able to do it. It is simply taking a precautionary principle.

At a time when we have spent decades, not just in this place but across states, debating the overallocation of water resources in terms of the traditional surface water in the Murray-Darling Basin, one would imagine that we would not want to repeat the bad old mistakes all over again. We are now about to spend billions upon billions of dollars having to buy back water entitlements because of overallocation of surface water. We should not be looking back in 50, 60 or 70 years time and seeing that this parliament did not take today the precautionary principle into account and ensure that we kept track of the allocations of groundwater extraction. We do not want to have to be here all over again having to buy back groundwater allocations because they are having such a significant impact on the overall level of water throughout the Murray-Darling Basin system. As I have already mentioned, the National Water Commission has already said that until otherwise proven we should be assuming that there is a 100 per cent relationship between groundwater and surface water—and that is what this amendment goes to.


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