INSIGHT

Major water reforms in Queensland to affect all water users

By Bill McCredie
Agriculture Environment & Planning Industrials Oil & Gas Resources

In brief

Major water reforms that will affect all water users, particularly the resources industry, have commenced in Queensland. All water users should be aware of the changes and new obligations, especially as there may be potentially significant time and cost benefits and risks. Partner Bill McCredie and Senior Associate Gobind Kalsi report.

What does it mean for you?

Over the past two years, a number of Acts passed (but did not commence) that proposed significant reforms to the current regulation of water in Queensland under the Water Act 2000 (Qld).

These Acts have now commenced. Due to the scope of the changes, all industries that 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 also potentially significant time and cost benefits and risks to be aware of.

Here is a summary of some of the key reforms.

SectorChange

Mining – Existing mining operations that already have rights to take groundwater.

  • a requirement to begin reporting the amount of groundwater taken by the operations (this includes estimates of 'taking' by evaporation); and
  • a requirement to advise the department within three months of exercising 'underground water rights' under the Water Act.

Mining – Existing greenfield and brownfield projects which have not yet obtained an approval to take or interfere with groundwater under the Water Act.

  • in most cases, the proponent will have to apply for an 'associated water licence' under the Water Act.

Petroleum & Gas – All petroleum and gas tenure holders – take of 'non-associated water'.

  • the volume of 'non associated water' taken must be reported;
  • the continued right to take 'non-associated water' will continue for five years for petroleum tenure holders within the Surat cumulative management area, and two years for others outside that area; and
  • a new separate approval process for water approvals for 'non-associated water' for petroleum tenure holders during the transitional period has also commenced.

Petroleum & Gas and Mining – Statutory Make Good Obligations

  • changes to definition of when a water bore has an 'impaired capacity';
  • landholder bores will have to be made good if they have been impacted by free gas as a result of the tenure holder's activities, even if there is no decline in water level caused by the activities; and
  • landholders will have a statutory 'cooling off' period for Make Good Agreements.

All Water Users

  • reform to 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 previous statutory water resource plans and resource operation plans.

All Water Users

  • approval process for authorisations under the Water Act are more streamlined for a range of authorisations.

The way forward

The reforms to the Water Act are significant. All water users in Queensland should understand that new obligations and statutory processes apply and should seek advice to understand the new obligations and opportunities.