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Plan to hit aquifers

Wednesday, 26th October, 2011

The Darling River Action Group (DRAG) says it is worried by rumours that large groundwater extraction will be part of the coming Murray-Darling Basin (MDBA) Plan.

DRAG said that not only was there too little water proposed for environmental flows in the coming MDBA plan, but further information had come to light that the Authority intended to authorise huge increases in groundwater extraction.

The group’s secretary, Barney Stevens, said the groundwater will be taken as part of the process of coal seam gas extraction in the northern part of the Basin.  

It is estimated that an additional 2400 litres of water will be taken per year.

“The MDBA recommendation for groundwater extraction is a huge increase over the amount recommended in the Guide last year and a huge increase over present extractions,” Mr Stevens said.

“It’s an interesting coincidence that the amount of water proposed to be taken out of use by the irrigation industry (2800 gigalitres or less) is the almost the same as the amount of groundwater being given to the coal seam gas industry.

“But groundwater is a much more complex issue than surface water. The MDBA admit that they have only limited knowledge of the amount of groundwater in the different aquifers, the connections between aquifers and the rate of recharge of those aquifers.

“Then there is the issue of connections between rivers and groundwater. Some aquifers are directly from the rivers.”

Mr Stevens said there was great concern among that the removal of water from an aquifer could reduce the flow in river systems.

He said that in a recent MDBA presentation to environmental groups in Sydney, which he attended, the Authority showed little knowledge of groundwater volumes and salt problems.  

“Their answers showed that they had not thought the groundwater issue through.  Frankly, they have been nobbled. First it was the irrigation lobby, now it is the coal seam gas lobby. They are supposed to be independent.”

Anti-mining lobby group, the Lock the Gate Alliance, has echoed DRAG’s sentiments and this week claimed the information being leaked on the Plan was showing poor value for money. 

“The water is being taken with one hand and given away with the other,” said Alliance President, Drew Hutton.

“There is no science behind the proposed increases in groundwater take, just guesses,” he said.

“It was precisely the lack of understanding of how the Basin’s water systems work that got us into the mess that required Governments to intervene and buy back water for the environment in the first place.

“The lesson that should have been learnt is that water connects. It connects people and places right across the Basin. 

“If we take too much water in one place, other places and other users will be affected.”

The official word is that the Plan will be released in coming weeks.

The MDBA confirmed that, despite previous conjecture, it will hold public meetings once the Plan is released.  

Rhondda Dickson, the MDBA’s Chief Executive, told the BDT that she had been misquoted in recent news coverage and had told a recent Senate Estimates briefing that “once we have settled arrangements we will advise communities in enough time when there will be particular meetings in their area.” 

“I also made it clear that if communities want public meetings, of course we will hold public meetings. We are also looking at a whole range of other options which have been recommended by various members of the community.”

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