The Adani Carmichael project has received an associated water licence and surface water licence from the Queensland Government; both granted on 29 March 2017. What does this mean? EDO Qld explains.
What are these water licences for?
The ‘associated water licence’ grants Adani the right to take or interfere with groundwater through dewatering the mining pit. This licence has no volumetric cap; allowing essentially unlimited take of groundwater. It is expected that Adani may require up to 9.5 billion litres of groundwater every year for the Carmichael project. [see groundwater reports from Land Court case here, here, and here]
The ‘surface water licence’ grants Adani a nominal entitlement to extract 12,500 ML per year from the Suttor River.
Community legal rights to have concerns heard around water licences
There are no community rights to appeal the merits of the decisions to grant the associated water licence for the Adani Carmichael project.
Due to a last minute carve out passed in water reform legislative amendments last year (see below for further details), the community can no longer challenge the merits of the associated water licence for the Adani Carmichael mine.
To our knowledge public notification was not undertaken for the broad community for the surface water licence. The community is only granted the right to apply for internal review and appeal of a water licence decision where they make a submission to a public notification process. If there was no public notification there are no rights available to the broad community to apply for internal review or to appeal the surface water licence where public notification is not undertaken.
If you are a person aggrieved by the decision (ie. your interests have been adversely affected) you can request a statement of reasons from the decision maker as to why and how the decision was made under the Judicial Review Act 1991 (Qld) (JR Act). Special interests groups can also be considered a person aggrieved if they can demonstrate their particular interests in the matter above that of the general public, along with other criteria. The JR Act provides a process by which unlawful administrative decisions may be overturned by the Courts.
Brief history of changes to associated water licence requirements for groundwater take, favouring Carmichael mine
Dewatering of groundwater from a mining pit would historically have required a water licence under the Water Act 2000 (Qld) (Water Act) for most mines, which provides the community with submission, review and merit appeal rights. However, the previous Queensland Government introduced legislation to remove the need for mines to obtain an associated water licence, including mines already mid-assessment like the Adani Carmichael mine.
EDO Qld worked tirelessly with other groups to ensure that the current Queensland Government introduced an amendment Bill which repealed this change and required mines that are mid-assessment to still obtain a licence for groundwater take. This would ensure the full and proper assessment of the impacts to the environment and community from proposed groundwater take, and that the community had the right to provide submissions, review and appeal the decisions for these licences. [See here for more information]
An amendment Bill was passed on 9 November 2016, requiring mines mid-assessment to obtain associated water licences, however a last minute change meant that the Adani Carmichael project is not required to have their associated water licence opened for public comment, nor is it subject to internal review or merit appeal rights by the community.
These amendments did not impact the regulation of surface water licences needed for the Carmichael mine.
Critical infrastructure and prescribed project declaration could affect legal rights
On Friday 7 October 2016, Minister for State Development, Anthony Lynham, declared that Adani’s Carmichael coal mine and the related rail and water infrastructure projects are a “prescribed project” and a “critical infrastructure project” under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld). These two declarations mean the Coordinator-General can speed up and take control of all approvals still required for the Carmichael mine to proceed.
These powers may be exercised to prevent the community having access to statutory judicial review under the JR Act, however common law judicial review may potentially be available.
These powers have not, to our knowledge, been exercised yet by the Coordinator-General.
Does the Adani Carmichael mine still need other licences?
While these are the larger licences still pending before the Carmichael project can proceed, other licences in addition to this one are still likely to be needed by Adani, including licences for clearing of protected plants and animals in the areas of the mine infrastructure and rail line. [see EIS list of approvals, here]