Queensland proposes stricter groundwater extraction laws

Posted 21 September 2016

Groundwater extractionResource companies could face tougher environmental laws for groundwater extraction under a  Queensland Government proposal.

Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles said the proposed laws would give the environment department stronger, clearer powers to assess the potential environmental impacts of groundwater extraction.

“That will mean a rigorous scientific assessment of the impact of mining projects on groundwater would be required before an environmental approval is issued for new mining projects,” he said.

“Mining can have significant impacts on groundwater, which is why we will require scrutiny of groundwater extraction, through the EA process, which is open for public comment.

“Community objections will be allowed as part of the environmental approval stage, instead of the current objection process used in water licences.”

Miles said the laws would also strengthen protection for farmers and other rural landholders by improving the existing make good obligations under the Water Act 2000.

“The new laws will help landholders who are affected by gassy bores. Gassy bores can damage farm equipment, can interrupt the flow of water from a bore or can leave water in a condition where it is not fit for use on the farm,” he said.

The bill clarifies that make-good obligations arise where underground water rights are the likely cause of impairment, even if there is an uncertainty.

“Companies would also be required to cover the costs of any alternative dispute resolution process and allow a cooling-off period for make-good agreements,” Miles said.

“The laws will also require resource companies to pay a landholder’s costs in engaging a hydrogeologist for the purposes of negotiating a make good agreement.”

The laws would apply to new EA applications received by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) for resource activities that include groundwater extraction under the new right to take.

Existing holders of a water licence, administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM), would continue to operate under that water licence.

Companies that have applied for, or been granted an EA, but have not yet secured a water licence, would still need to seek a water licence from DNRM that involves an environmental assessment of groundwater impacts, subject to public scrutiny and third-party appeals.