Limestone Coast WAP to be challenged

THE State Government's controversial Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan could possibly be challenged in court by a group of local farmers.

A group of irrigators - worried about the effect the plan and the water cuts it proposes to introduce - will have on their business, have sought legal advice after the adoption of the plan by State Water Minister Ian Hunter in late November.

The farmers had been advised not to comment to the media about any planned case but confirmed to the Herald they are considering legal action.

One farmer told the Herald in May he stood to potentially lose 34 per cent of his allocation as a result of the new plan - which uses volumetric conversion rather than allocation based on land size and takes into account the amount of water licenses in an area to decide allocation.

These licenses are included in figures whether they are active or not.

In one zone near Naracoorte there were 125 registered water licence holders, of which 35 hadn't pumped any water in the past three years.

Despite the concerns of some farmers in the region, the adoption of the plan has been welcomed by the SE Natural Resources Board.

SE NRM board presiding member Frank Brennan felt it was a significant achievement to secure the region's water security through the adoption of the plan given the interests of so many water users and stakeholders needed to be taken into consideration. 

"Water is the region's lifeblood and is what enables our region to be such a prosperous and diverse part of the world," he said. 

"The continued management of our groundwater resources is vital for the region's economic, social, cultural and environmental security and the adopted WAP will ensure its sustainability for now, and in the future."

Mr Brennan said the board wished to thank the community and all stakeholders for their involvement with developing the adopted plan. 

A total of 91 submissions were received by the board and all were considered: plus over 40 public and stakeholder meetings were held during the consultation phase.

"The board have needed to listen to a lot of voices from a wide range of people and industries over the past 10 years and I believe the board has been able to effectively design the WAP whilst taking all views and concerns into consideration," Mr Brennan said. 

"The board also thanks the community for their patience over the past 10 years and I acknowledge the WAP has taken longer than expected to be adopted, but I cannot stress enough that the board placed a strong emphasis on consulting the community and establishing a WAP appropriate to meet our existing and future needs."

The plan involved extensive community consultation, research and the inclusion of commercial forestry as a licensed water user and is designed to establish the rules for managing, taking and using prescribed water. 

It seeks to provide security and equity between water users while balancing the capacity and sustainability of the region's water resources and the needs of the environment. 

A water allocation plan takes into account any potentially detrimental effects on the quality or quantity of water resources from taking or using water and the needs of groundwater dependent ecosystems.

The ability of water resources to meet future demand is another key consideration. 

It identifies how water will be allocated, the amount of water available for allocation, rules for transferring licences and allocations, how trading of water will occur and the criteria for water affecting activity permits. 

In what is believed to be a world first, commercial forestry will now be required to account and pay for the water it uses. 

This was legislated in November 2011 with amendments made to the Natural Resources Management Act 2004. 

Mr Brennan said this was important component of water allocation plan and that other parts of the world where forestry is a major landholder are watching the outcome of the WAP closely. 

Implementation of the newly adopted plan will start shortly with staff available to assist people in understanding the plan, how it may affect them and obligation for licence holders. 

The change to volumetric conversion will occur over the next 6-8 months and commercial forestry licensing from July 1, 2014. 

Information including a series of fact sheets is available from www.senrm.sa.gov.au or by contacting Natural Resources SE on 08 8735 1177 or 11 Helen St, Mount Gambier. 

Copies of the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan are also available on CD.

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