The state’s peak rural producer group has urged the state government to ensure future water allocations on Cape York maximise development opportunities.
The region is the last in the state to develop a water planning process, currently underway. It will cover 15 basins across Cape York, being Archer, Coleman, Ducie, Embley, Endeavour, Holroyd, Jacky Jacky, Jardine River, Jeannie, Lockhart, Normanby, Olive-Pascoe, Stewart, Watson and the Wenlock.
The plan will cover all surface water and underground water supplies not covered by the water plan for the Great Artesian Basin and will strike a balance between the needs of agriculture, mining, industry and town water supplies with environmental, social and indigenous water needs.
AgForce general manager of policy Dale Miller said the water plan set out rules for a 10-year period and it was important in that process that the development aspirations of the Cape were considered effectively.
“AgForce wants to see development opportunities maximised in terms of matching suitable soils with water resources but it’s important in allocating water resources that it is sustainable over time,” Mr Miller said.
“We don’t want to see competition for water resources resulting in people’s reliability and security of entitlement being deteriorated or reduced over time.
“We understand from the department modelling and understanding that there is only limited ground water available in Lakeland and now they are starting to look for opportunities for surface water and overland flow and what can be secured through new development or otherwise.
“Lakeland is the key hotspot when it comes to significant desire for expansion.
“We need to see the state government come up with a suite of policies that do sustain development. We don’t want to see development that isn’t economically viable or environmentally sustainable.
“It’s about picking those areas that can be developed sustainably and can also turn a dollar for the industry and to make a difference for the Cape.”
Mr Miller said AgForce had expressed concern that the social impact assessment part of the water plan had not been conducted with the same level of rigour as environmental assessments, particularly in with regard to requiring independent third party review.
“We want to make sure the state government is putting the same level of scrutiny and resources into understanding social and economic needs of the community on the Cape and making sure the plan delivers on those needs as well as delivering on the environmental needs,” Mr Miller said.
“A key outcome for AgForce is making sure we have certainty and security over water access entitlement and that they are sustainable.”
The state government has established three consultative groups – southern (Cooktown), northern and western (Weipa based), along with an overarching regional group.