Renee Pilcher

Mary water fight is 'not over yet'

THE fight for the Mary Valley has moved into a new phase as the State Government continues to eye off a large slab of the basin's total water flow as drinking water for Brisbane.

Gympie Region councillors yesterday heard news that, despite the failure of the Traveston Crossing dam proposal, the government was now moving to take the same amount of water, under political arrangements which prevent the Federal Government blocking the move on environmental grounds.

In a report on planned new state water legislation, council staff warned that the government continued to maintain its right to access a widely questioned “strategic reserve” of 150,000 megalitres of water a year, an amount described as “mythical” by Mary Valley advocates and which was even indirectly challenged by the state Co-ordinator General in 2009.

Cr Jan Watt, who helped work on the report presented to Wednesday's council meeting, said the legislation would also have the effect of allocating water to the government in a way which by-passed the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (the law under which then federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett blocked the dam).

A report by the council's engineering services director Bob Fredman said the main effect of the new draft legislation was the elimination of community consultation as a compulsory part of the water planning process.

“It is no longer compulsory, rather it is at the discretion of the Minister, to have a community reference panel to advise the department during formulation of the (government's) Water Resource Plan.

“In preparation of the Mary Basin WRP...a major local issue (will be) what constitutes reasonable and sustainable water extraction from the Mary in a dry year.”

Mr Fredman said the state government persisted with the widely questioned 150,000Ml strategic reserve of water which supposedly could be taken out every year, even in drought.

It had also continued to build the Northern Interconnector Pipeline, which would allow it to access Mary River water for further extraction, in addition to the amounts already taken out from other dams in the basin.

The council accepted Mr Fredman's advice and resolved to request that a Community Reference Panel be compulsory in the water resource planning process “and that this panel be empowered to take issues of disagreement to the Minister.”

“They are taking away an avenue of consultation that is absolutely vital,” Cr Watt said.

This would allow the government to claim the existence of a “strategic reserve” of water which might not always exist, effectively authorising the government to run the Mary River dry, with Gympie only allowed a 4000Ml share and irrigators potentially left with uncertainty.

“They don't say where the water will be taken from or how it will be extracted.

“If this goes through and the community reference panel is taken out of the picture, there is significantly reduced opportunity for input,” she said, adding that the information flow back to the community had also been an important part of the CRP system.

“People on those panels had access to information not otherwise available.”

Also important was the new rules having a capacity to sideline the EPBC Act.

“Once the (government) grid manager has authority under a state plan, the EPBC Act doesn't apply.

That would mean that the extraction of 150,000Ml from the Mary Basin by the state government “can't be assessed under the EPBC Act” and the strategic reserve “may find its way into state legislation.”

Cr Julie Walker said the problem was made urgent by the fact that the northern pipeline was getting closer.

Deputy Mayor Tony Perrett said water entitlements were “extremely important to the region and there must be local input into any decisions.”

He said replacing the water plan's Community Reference Panel with advice from environmental groups was “unacceptable.” Cr Watt said the government had claimed community involvement would be taken care of by environment groups, but Cr Dyne said “environmental groups...don't represent everyone in this area.”