It hasn't been a good week for water resources. El Salvador's remaining unpolluted drinking water supplies are under threat by mining company OceanaGold – one of whose largest investors is Australian Mutual Provident. And from California has come further proof of the contamination of precious aquifers by fracking poisons.
Closer to home, the drip-drip erosion of Queenslanders' democratic and human rights by the LNP state government took another turn for the worse this week. The unchecked, solitary Legislative Assembly passed the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, which reduces the assessment and regulation of the water taken by large mining projects.
Resource companies will now have a statutory right to just take water for their activities rather than go through a water licence approval process. This is such a retrogressive step – described by the Environmental Defenders Office as 'a shockingly risky move' – it's made me depressed. And extremely angry. I can only imagine the impact its passing has had on rural communities, especially those facing the prospect of a third consecutive dry Wet.
The EDO spokesperson added:
In the recent Alpha Coal case it was established by the Queensland Land Court that Hancock had not adequately studied the hydrological characteristics or impacts of their proposed mining operations on the groundwater outside of the mining site. The Land Court held that consequently the mine project should be refused, or approved on the condition that the mine undergo assessment and successfully obtain licences under the Water Act.
I attended the Land Court most days during that case, and was pleased to hear Member Smith's considered, precautionary and unprecedented conclusions. There followed a deafening silence on the part of the relevant ministers – of Environment and Mining. Now the full extent of their response has been revealed. Instead of implementing more regulation of the water requirements of mines, the government first removed the rights of landowners or the public to object to risky big mining not directly on their land (see This despicable government, September 2014), and followed it up with this water 'reform'; thus neatly rendering the Land Court's recommendations largely redundant.
Minister Cripps pronounced:
We won't be using the principle of ecologically sustainable development as the purpose of the water act in the future. But what we will be doing is using [it]… for the productive and responsible use of water resources which [sic] balances the competing interests across the use of water resources in Queensland.
At a time when ecological sustainability has to be the prime mover of all legislation and economic development, this extraordinary position taken by a minister of state displays a remarkable, if not criminal, abrogation of responsibility, and a denial of long-established global consensus and scientific evidence. It truly beggars belief. Where is the outrage, Queenslanders?
Cripps trumpets the fact that make-good agreements are also statutory now. But the onus will be on landholders to prove that mining has impacted their water supplies directly, an expensive business. And 'making good' practicalities will be subject to negotiation, which 'maximises flexibility' according to Minister Cripps but in reality offers the mining companies huge scope for prevarication and, ultimately, avoidance of their responsibility.
I have noticed increased activity on the corners of major intersections in my constituency as LNP supporters make their presence felt in readiness for the state election in a few months' time. If you meet your MP on the corner, please ask them what the hell they think they're doing with this state's most precious resource. And in case you're in any doubt about the importance of this issue, I quote Paola Cassoni, co-owner of Bimblebox Nature Refuge in the Galilee Basin, who concluded her evidence to the Land Court last year with these words.
Finally, my last word is a tribute to our water.
As a prerequisite of life, water is hardly an optional extra or a luxury of personal choice. Loss of water, or significantly degraded water quality, isn't an inconvenience, it's the end game for the Desert Upland rural communities.
We treat water with reverence and grace. We don't over-extract, and we marvel that even in a year of drought like this one, water still comes to us in our bores, and we know we will be able to survive this dry landscape once again. But for those who have never been short of water, they can't understand our anxiety. We will be living our next 30 years or more, knowing huge voids will be continuously draining our precious water supplies.
By nature's good fortune, we are able to keep the bulk of our water conveniently stored away in shallow, life-giving arteries. With a water supply protected from the drying atmosphere, the Desert Uplands is a gift to the world and to the few who make it their home.
Photo credit: farmsreach.com
This post was last edited on 4 December 2014