Last Updated: April 21, 2017

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Reef draft water quality regulations open for comment until 21 April

4 April 2017

Get your comments in by 21 April on improving regulation of Great Barrier Reef water quality impacts

Submissions on the discussion paper: Enhancing regulations to ensure clean water for a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a prosperous Queensland will now close on Friday 21 April 2017. The discussion paper is available here.

EDO Qld has been assisting with the review of the regulation of Great Barrier Reef water quality impacts, namely from agricultural activities but also urban development and other intensive land uses in Queensland.

This review is being undertaken by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection as a result of the recommendation from the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce to ‘implement staged and targeted regulations’ which improve on the current regulation of Reef water quality impacts.

Also, these regulations are aimed at achieving the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013 water quality targets:

  • At least a 50 per cent reduction in anthropogenic end-of catchment dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads in priority areas by 2018.
  • At least a 20 per cent reduction in anthropogenic end-of catchment loads of sediment and particulate nutrients in priority areas by 2018.
  • Both based on comparisons with the 2009 baseline.

Existing regulation of fertiliser and pesticide use and sedimentation occurring from sugarcane farms and grazing properties in Reef catchments has not been sufficient to curb the negative impacts of these activities on Reef water quality. These impacts are having serious long-term effects on the reef health and decreases its resilience to pressures such as climate change and ocean acidification.

The most recent 2015  Great Barrier Reef Report Card demonstrates that so far actions have not been sufficiently fast and widespread enough to ensure we meet the reef water quality targets essential for maintaining the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

The discussion paper details the ways the Queensland Government proposes to broaden and enhance its existing reef protection regulations with a focus on stopping the most polluting practices from land-based activities in upstream Reef catchments. Suggestions in the discussion paper include:

  • Setting or improving existing minimum practice standards targeting nutrient and sediment pollution for all key industries in all reef catchments;
  • Setting pollution load limits for each reef catchment to target responses for managing risks to water quality; and
  • Providing a framework for water quality offsets to be used to counter residual nutrient or sediment pollution from new agricultural, urban and other intensive land uses

The final recommendations from the review are expected to go to government by late 2017, with implementation of the new regulations expected in 2018.

EDO Qld commends the Queensland Government for taking action to reduce water quality impacts. The regulatory changes proposed in the discussion paper are a start, however we are concerned that the process risks being too slow, and that the targets implemented by the government will not be sufficient to truly ensure the health of our Reef into the future. We have had enforcement powers in the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld), chapter 4A, dedicated to the regulation of Reef water quality impacts since 2009, however to our knowledge these powers have never been utilised by the Department. The targets recommended in the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce must be implemented and enforcement action must be taken from now by the Department.

More information can be found here.