The Queensland Government has introduced amending legislation that will significantly reform all parts of water regulation in Queensland. The reform introduces significant streamlining opportunities but also new obligations, particularly for those in the resources industry. Partner Bill McCredie, Special Counsel Philip Murray and Senior Associate Gobind Kalsi report.
The Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 proposes to introduce significant reform to the current regulation of water in Queensland under the Water Act 2000. Due to the scope of the changes, all industries who currently hold or require approvals under the Water Act should seek advice as to what the reforms mean for their operations and projects. There are potentially significant time and cost benefits and risks as a result of the proposed reforms.
The key potential outcomes of the Bill (if passed unamended) include:
The existing underground water management framework applicable to the petroleum and gas sector will apply to the take of groundwater that is necessarily and unavoidably obtained in the process of extracting resources (termed 'associated water') by mining operations. For example, mine dewatering to the extent necessary to achieve safe operating conditions.
Existing holders of a mineral development licence or mining lease when the Bill commences will have up to three months to advise the State that they are taking associated water. Additional transitional arrangements will apply. New 'water monitoring authorities' are also proposed to be introduced under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 to facilitate miners complying with their new 'underground water obligations' under the Water Act.
Petroleum and gas
Existing rights to take 'non-associated' water will be removed and holders of petroleum tenements will have to apply for a separate approval for the taking of water for 'non-associated' purposes.
All existing tenure holders will retain existing rights for two years, by which time an approval must be obtained. A transitional period of five years will apply for tenures within the Surat Cumulative Management Area.
'Major Water Infrastructure Projects'
For projects declared to be 'major water infrastructure projects', the State will be able to grant a 'water development option'. This option is a commitment by the State to the project proponent to reserve an amount of water on conditions specified by the State. The new process will provide significant time, cost and project bankability advantages for large-scale agricultural projects that are assessed as 'coordinated projects' under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971.
Streamlined water planning
The Bill proposes to reform water planning in Queensland through the introduction of catchment-based 'water plans' and 'water use plans'. The new process is intended to be more flexible and less prescriptive than the current statutory water resource plans and resource operation plans.
Further significant reforms are proposed, including: a new flexibility to convert water licences to water allocations; deregulating the taking of, and interference with, water for 'low-risk' activities; simplifying the assessment process for amendments to a water licence; and introducing watercourse mapping.
Health and safety
Proposed amendments to health and safety legislation are also identified to complement changes to the new coal and coal seam gas overlapping tenure reforms. For more detail regarding the overlapping tenure reforms see our Client Update: First step to implement a Common Resources Act in Queensland.
The proposed reforms to the Water Act will have an impact across all industries in Queensland, but are particularly significant for the resource and water sectors. The Bill has been referred to the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee, with a report to be provided to Parliament by 17 November 2014. All industry participants should seek advice regarding the benefits and potential costs of the reforms and consider whether a submission to the committee is warranted.