NT Environmental Regulation and Water Policy Reform

NT Environmental Regulatory Reform

The Northern Territory Department of Environment and Natural Resources has released a discussion paper for environmental regulatory reform. The paper outlines the aspirations and objectives of the Government to completely reform the regulatory framework by streamlining all approvals into one environmental approval for all developments.

They are intending to strengthen processes for public participation and consultation including introducing review rights so that the interested groups or objectors can review and challenge certain aspects of the assessment and approvals process. In addition to public participation they are intending to improve transparency and accountability by providing greater powers to the NT EPA and ensuring approvals embed responsive and adaptive management.

ALEC has met with the working group to discuss our take on the proposals. While we remain optimistic in terms of the progressive model that is being proposed, we need to wait to see the details. There is still much more work to be done, especially regarding the definition of the Territory environmental objectives which will guide impact assessment.

ALEC will be pushing for the most progressive and best practice environmental protection to ensure that environmental law not only prevents irreparable harm to the environment but creates positive responsibilities on industry and government to enhance and restore environmental values. We will be making a submission to the Government by the 28th of June which is the deadline for public consultation.

We also encourage anyone interested in environmental regulation to submit their comments on the proposal to ensure that the Government creates a law that reflects the most pressing environmental and community concerns. This is a real opportunity for the Territory to not only come into line with other states but create a progressive and leading environmental approvals framework.

Here is a link to access the regulatory reform discussion paper: https://denr.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/413089/Environmental-Regulatory-Reform-Discussion-Paperv2.pdf

Water Policy

ALEC has also met with the Department of Environment to discuss the renewal of the Water Allocation Plan for the Western Davenport Region, south of Tennant Creek. Water Allocation plans are reviewed on average every five years. This new plan includes a significant increase in the total volume of water that is allocated for extraction to facilitate increased horticultural development in the region. Part of the NT Government’s plan for Developing the North includes large scale horticulture in the Western Davenport region experimenting with avocado, asparagus and other vegetables and fruits.

Water policy defines sustainable extraction as the level that can be extracted over a 300-year period that is not more than 80% of pre-extraction levels without having a deleterious impact upon ground water dependent ecosystems. To ensure the sustainability of our groundwater reserves each extraction licence will be assessed according to the modelled impact on groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) and increased competition with other water users.

ALEC is heartened to see a renewed commitment to high quality science and research into the dispersal and water use of GDEs. There is also an improved interest in identifying high value cultural and biodiversity sites to ensure that extraction bores are appropriately located so that drawdown does not threaten those sites.

One of the major concerns of this plan is that it does not account for the water use of the proposed Mount Peake Vanadium-Titanium mine. Water for this mine will be drawn from bores located in the South West of the region which does not currently have enough monitoring bores to ensure that extraction will not impact GDEs. The Government will be removing the Mining exemption from the Water Act soon so the water use of the Mine will eventually need to be accounted for in the allocation plan. 

ALEC will be making a submission on this plan and again encourages anyone to review the proposal and make a submission. Our feedback will be a valuable addition to the public consultation which is otherwise mainly dominated by the perspectives of investors, pastoralists and horticulture projects.

Here is the draft water allocation plan: https://denr.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/422673/Draft-Western-Davenport-Water-Allocation-Plan-May-2017-website.pdf

You can view the proposals and make a submission to both reform processes here: https://denr.nt.gov.au/land-resource-management/consultation-publications/open-for-consultation

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