The CLC has asked the NT water controller not to grant any more water licences in the Western Davenport water control district, south of Tennant Creek, until the district’s water allocation plan has been reviewed.

“We are very concerned about the risk of over-allocation of groundwater,” CLC chief executive Lesley Turner said.

Already granted licences in the district’s central plains management zone, including the controversial 40,000 mega litres-per-year licence for Singleton Station, take up a massive 51,104 mega litres of water per year.

“Two new licence applications from Neutral Junction Station, southwest of Singleton Station, and Murray Downs Station, southeast of Singleton, add up to 9,475 mega litres per year,” he said.

“If they are also granted, the 60,879 mega litres that are currently estimated to be available would be almost completely used up. This is an unacceptable risk.”

“We urge the water controller to decline the new water licence applications in the interest of the region’s traditional owners, native title holders and Aboriginal residents until a new plan based on a conservative estimate of water availability is in place.

“Their cultural connections and responsibilities for the plants, animals and sacred sites sustained by this groundwater are very much at stake, as are emerging small Aboriginal horticulture businesses.”

The district’s water allocation plan rates the risk of over-allocation as extreme and states that even if water allocation is staged and adaptive management plans are used the risk will remain high.

The expert panel that recently reviewed the water controller’s decision to grant the unprecedented Singleton Station water licence echoed these concerns.

It recommended a review of water availability estimates and said such a review “may result in a reduction in the ESY [estimated sustainable yield]”.

A week ago the water controller declared a new water allocation plan that extends the previous plan for 12 months, pending a water planning review.

“The water controller must also review water availability and certainty as part of this review and not kick the can down the road and leave the job to developers,” Mr Turner said.

The CLC represents traditional owners and native title holders on the water advisory committee which is expected to contribute to the next water allocation plan.

“This process will have no legitimacy without a full review of estimates of water availability backed by rigorous testing and data, rather than the guesswork on which the current plan is based,” Mr Turner said.

“Until further research into groundwater availability has been carried out no further licences must be granted.”

14 December 2021