Farmers vs miners on water licences

28 Nov, 2010 02:00 AM
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KARARA Mining has begun work on the pipeline that will allow it to access water from a Mingenew aquifer despite not yet being granted a licence.

Karara Mining has applied for a licence to use the remaining 5.3 gigalitres, or 86 per cent, of the water in the Parmelia aquifer but the Department of Water is yet to issue that licence.

Mingenew residents are remaining hopeful that the licence won't be granted but the iron ore company is confident and expects to be awarded a final licence later this year.

Farmers Zoe Campbell and Ian Pullbrook recently met with Water Minister Graham Jacobs where a submission was handed to him on behalf of the Mingenew community, in one last bid to stop the company accessing the remaining water from the groundwater system.

Ms Campbell said the meeting was a good chance to talk to the minister, but she said he wasn't fully aware of the situation and they weren't given any answers.

In the submission many issues were raised about the effects Karara's plans would have on the community, the long-term groundwater sustainability and the region's future.

Residents are concerned that if Karara is given the licence, the four shires that utilise water from the aquifer for town supplies could run out of water.

The community believes that the removal of such a large amount of water from the aquifer will also directly affect local families who draw water from the basin for both household and agricultural use and that wetlands and ecosystems in the region could be affected.

Many farmers have developed plans to diversify into horticulture production, but Karara could destroy these plans and devalue the land.

Mr Pullbrook, of Greenoil Tree Nursery, recently spent $50,000 on irrigation equipment to expand his asparagus production.

Greenoil currently has an application before the Department of Water to increase its water licence from 175,000kL to 500,000kL.

But Mr Pullbrook said if Karara's licence application was accepted, Greenoil would be unable to obtain its licence increase due to the first come first serve policy of the Department of Water.

"We will be restricted on what we've already got," Mr Pullbrook said.

Mr Pulbrook said for the majority of aquifers across the state, 50 per cent of the water was used for agricultural purposes and the Parmelia aquifer should be no different.

Ms Campbell, who runs a mixed farming enterprise with husband Rob, said all their water came from the Parmelia aquifer.

Ms Campbell said part of their 4453 hectare property sits on the aquifer and contains one of the last freshwater lakes.

She said they were also considering diversifying into horticulture but it wouldn't be possible if Karara was granted the licence.

"We can't get a licence if Karara takes 86pc of the water," she said.

Ms Campbell said the main issue since Karara submitted its application was a lack of community consultation and communication with farmers in the region.

But Karara Mining denied a lack of communication and said there had been an enormous amount of communication with the Mingenew shire and the whole Mid West community from the commencement of the project.

Karara Mining chief executive officer Steve Murdoch said Karara Mining was currently going through a comprehensive process in consultation with the Department of Water.

"Karara has conducted extensive test work to ensure that the extraction and subsequent water draw-down on the aquifer will be sustainable long term," Mr Murdoch said.

Karara Mining also said there would be no adverse affect on the aquifer or water users of the aquifer and they would continue to show that.

Mr Murdoch said should the Department of Water find that other users of the aquifer were being materially affected by Karara, the Department can limit or cut-off Karara's access to the water.

"Karara believes that the strict conditions of its licence mean that the interests of other water users are completely protected," he said.

"Therefore it believes that the claims being made about the consequences of its water use are totally wrong."

Residents and rate payers of the Mingenew community will meet again on December 3 to discuss the next step.

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READER COMMENTS

acaciarose
30/11/2010 4:03:50 AM, on Farm Weekly

Good article and brings into sharp focus that we must amend the mining laws so that mining does not have automatic precedence over other activities and industries. More importantly - water trading and the water market will skew water management and justice towards the deepest pockets not the best or fairest use. Water is the commons. Groundwater is more than just the commons for people, it is the commons for the environment and all its interconnected ecosystems. Plunder groundwater and you automatically plunder natural systems for decades into the future.

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