“Too precious to rush this”: NT Government’s water controller urged to delay huge horticulture water license decision until impacts are known

The Central Land Council has called on the Northern Territory’s water controller not to approve a 40,000 megalitre-a-year water license application for Singleton Station, south of Tennant Creek, until more is known about the impacts of the proposal on more than 1000 affected residents.

“We are very concerned about the lack of scientific data about groundwater availability and how such a massive and unprecedented proposal would affect the water our people, animals and plants are relying on for their long-term survival,” said CLC executive member Michael Liddle.

Fortune Agribusiness last year applied for 40,000 megalitres of publicly owned water to be set aside each year for 30 years, for free.

This is more than eight times the amount of water Alice Springs uses in a year and would become the biggest groundwater licence in the history of the Territory.

“It would be extraordinary if the government made such a far reaching decision based on assumptions and guesswork,” said CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard.

“There are big gaps in our knowledge about the region’s groundwater and how it moves between the network of aquifers.”

“We’re mining a very precious, finite resource that is likely to dwindle even further due to climate change and more frequent droughts,” he said.

“That’s why we want the government to collect data to verify its assumptions and modelling about how much water is really underground and test the impact of irrigation on groundwater dependent ecosystems and cultural sites before allowing this proposal to go ahead.”

The CLC is also concerned that the controversial application, if granted, will set a dangerous precedent that may jeopardise proposed small and sustainable Aboriginal-controlled water horticulture projects in the region.

Its constituents want to know a lot more about the potential impacts of the proposal, including on their drinking water, before a careful and evidence-based decision on the application is made.

In November, following a community meeting in Alekarenge, the CLC asked Water Minister Eva Lawler to delay a decision until after the ceremony season to allow a meeting of affected remote community residents, traditional owners and native title holders to go ahead in Tennant Creek on 24 February.

However, it has learned the water controller plans to make a decision about the allocation next week.

Any allocation could be followed by what the government calls ‘adaptive management’, where the allocation would be varied over time, in line with how much water will be found to be actually available.

“Does anyone really believe that if their guesswork turns out to be wrong they will ask the company to pull out fruit trees and irrigation lines later on?” Mr Liddle asked.

“No future government will have the political will to cut back the water allocations of companies that have already invested millions of dollars.

“Our water is too precious to rush this or get it wrong. Our communities deserve to know the facts before a decision is made.”

Download the CLC Fact Sheet on the Singleton Station water allocation decision.