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Why we need a new water allocation plan for Alice Springs

Alice Springs has among the highest rates of water consumption in Australia. With close to 30,000 households and businesses using water from a finite groundwater supply drawn from the ancient Amadeus Basin Aquifers, careful management of our town's precious water is essential. 

Alice Springs’ current water allocation plan was developed in 2016. Since then, the water context has changed significantly and the current plan fails to address the key issues impacting water security within our region.

ALEC made a submission into the five year review of the Alice Springs Water Allocation Plan 2016-2026 (the Plan). To ensure the sustainable use of this precious resource and protect our drinking water supply for future generations, we believe a new water allocation plan is needed for Alice Springs.

Key recommendations for an equitable and sustainable water future

1. Establish Aboriginal Strategic Water Reserves

In 2019, the NT Government amended the Water Act to include Aboriginal Strategic Water Reserves as part of their broader water policy reform to ensure water is reserved for Aboriginal Territorians in water allocation plan areas.

Alice Springs’ current water plan is outdated and does not include any Aboriginal Strategic Water Reserves. A new plan should be developed which recognises the need to allocate water for the exclusive use or trade by Aboriginal landowners within the District.

2. Prioritise water security 

Our town’s water use is almost entirely sourced from the Mereenie aquifer system; an ancient groundwater system which consists of water that is somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 years old.

Since the water use cap was scrapped in 2013, there have been no meaningful regulations in place to keep water use within sustainable limits despite our finite groundwater supplies. In addition, without a water pricing system, the NT Government continues to give water away free to corporations.  

We need a new plan with safeguards to protect and conserve water for the environment and cultural uses; ensure any development is sustainable; and give priority to the longevity of public drinking water supply over corporate profit. 

No data has been collected on water availability since 2007. New research is needed to understand current water estimates and provide clarity on the impacts of climate change upon water resources in our region. 

3. Water demand management 

Water is our most precious resource. Yet Alice Springs has among the highest rates of water consumption in Australia, with water use by households 2-3 times greater than in Victoria and South Australia.

We need a plan which takes a holistic approach to water allocations, including understanding the nature of water demand and implementing appropriate measures to encourage efficient water use and minimise wastage.

4. Establish fracking ‘no-go zone’

The hydraulic fracturing process poses multiple severe threats to drinking water supplies.  Fracking is also a highly water intensive process - one fracking well uses between 20-30 million litres of water.

Fracking exploration and production is currently permitted across 51% of the Northern Territory, including the majority of Alice Springs’ water district.

To protect our aquifers from contamination and stop millions of litres of drinking water being used for fracking, we need a plan that establishes a hydraulic fracturing ‘no-go zone’ within our water district.

5. More scrutiny on conventional gas

The expansion of the gas industry within the Alice Springs water district is inconsistent with the sustainable and equitable use of water - yet active production licenses and exploration permits currently held by petroleum companies within our water district point to the potential for the significant expansion of this a water-intensive industry.

ALEC considers it essential that the encroachment of water-intensive industries such as gas into our water district is heavily scrutinised. In addition, we believe further consideration is needed to determine whether the Brewer Estate City Gate Gas Treatment Facility should be given an allocation to mine water from within the District.

Safeguarding our water future in Central Australia

ALEC actively contributes to the development of water policy and planning through written submissions and active participation with water advisory committees. Our advocacy in water policy is focused on ensuring the equitable and sustainable use of water resources to maintain full ecological function and protect cultural values.


Image: Alice Springs Water Allocation Plan 2016-2026, front page, submission from Yipirinya School for DLRM National Water Week competition 2020

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