Law Reform · Energy & Climate

It's time for special water rights for mining to go

09 June, 2018

EDO Qld welcomes the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that extractive industries (mining and gas) across the country be subject to the same rules as everyone else, and calls on the Government to better protect our water resources through the same transparent and strong regulation and planning that should apply equally to everyone.

In a report released on 31 May 2018, the Productivity Commission has recommended that  extractive industries should not have exemptions from water entitlement and planning (extracted below).

EDOs of Australia provided a detailed submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry which addressed many important issues concerning improving water regulation and governance across Australia. These submissions included the need to ensure that water resource impacts by extractive industries are subject to the same regulation and planning as other water users.

In the news: Special water rules for mining should go, Productivity Commission says

Read the Productivity Commission’s Water Reform Overview

In Queensland

In Queensland, the mining, petroleum and gas sector hold a statutory right to ‘associated water’ (water needed to access the resource), and are exempt from normal water entitlement and planning processes.

This means that these extractive industries are not subject to the normal water licence and water planning processes under the Water Act 2000 (Qld) which apply to other water users, including agricultural operators.

It also means there is insufficient transparency and accountability around the impacts of this resource water use in overall water planning, jeopardising the accuracy and effectiveness of water planning processes intended to ensure the sustainable management of our water resources into the future.

EDO Qld CEO Jo Bragg said:

“EDO is pleased to see this recommendation from the Productivity Commission to better protect our water resources through transparent and strong regulation and planning that applies equally to everyone.

“Extractive industries like mining and gas have a significant impact on our water resources through the sheer quantity of water they take, as well as the impacts on water quality and surrounding environments.

“Significant further improvements are needed to water regulation in Queensland; including more robust assessment of likely impacts on water resources, the environment and other water users prior to approval of resource activities.

“Reasonable site specific impact assessment should be undertaken prior to finalising the assessment process, so that we can truly consider and assess whether the impacts proposed by resource activities should be allowed.

“Currently projects are being regularly approved solely on the basis of modelling which hasn’t verified as far as was reasonably possible the likely impacts on water resources of our projects; with this assessment being left to adaptive management once the project has commenced. This is unfair and unacceptable, and is certainly far from the “strictest environmental conditions” the resource industry and government are constantly claiming are being used.

“Our environment and all water users, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, depend on water planning that takes into account the impact of all industries on our water resources.”

About the Report

This Report was in response to a request by Treasurer Scott Morrison for the Productivity Commission to undertake an Inquiry into progress with the reform of Australia's water resources sector, with a particular emphasis on the progress of all Australian governments in achieving the objectives, outcomes and timelines anticipated under the Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Water Initiative.

The Report provides many useful recommendations to help improve water regulation and planning across Australia, particularly to ensure we respond adequately to climate change and improve consideration of the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island interests in water management.

Extract from page 17 of the Report:

“Arrangements for extractive industries….Since 2004, the growth of extractive industries has increased competition for water resources in many parts of Australia. The NWI is ambiguous about how it applies to extractive industries. In some cases, alternative water rights arrangements for extractive industries exist outside the water entitlements and planning frameworks, raising concerns about risks to the supply to other water users and the environment. There are also concerns that alternative water rights arrangements may inhibit water trading.

“Water entitlements and planning frameworks should more fully incorporate major water uses. Governments should remove entitlement exemptions for extractive industries (unless there is a compelling reason otherwise), so that they are issued entitlements under the framework applying to other consumptive users.

“Transparent water planning processes provide a more effective means of considering the management of water use by extractive industries than relying on separate (and in some cases non-transparent) management arrangements.”

From page 28:

Recommendation 3.1(b): “State and Territory Governments should ensure that water entitlement and planning arrangements explicitly incorporate extractive industries, including ensuring that entitlements for extractive industries are issued under the same framework that applies to other consumptive users (unless there is a compelling reason otherwise).”

Read the Productivity Commission’s Water Reform Overview

Read more:
EDOs of Australia: Submission responding to the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report into National Water Reform, 31 October 2017
Adani Carmichael receives water licences
Water reforms passed (2016)