Victoria’s North and Murray Water Resource Plan

By on June 4, 2019

DR ELIZABETH GIBSON, General Manager of CMPA reports on references to the Extractive Industry in the Plan.

The Victoria’s North and Murray Water Plan (the Plan) is a comprehensive document (1022 pages) with the intent to “… outline how the state will meet its Basin Plan requirements and comply with the sustainable diversion limits.”

Additionally, the CMPA notes that “This Water Resource Plan is an enforceable instrument under the Commonwealth Water Act and Basin Plan.” Hence, it is important to ensure that the Plan is accurate, realistic, achievable and unbiased.

There were a number of references to the extractive industry in the Plan as detailed below:

p.115 “Earth resource development was found to be a cause of risk in the Northern Victoria surface water resource plan area. This risk was associated with sand and gravel extractions from the floodplain of the mid-Goulburn River (groundwater).”

Before land can be developed for extraction of sand and gravel:

  • A work plan must be statutorily endorsed under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSDA);
  • A planning permit must be issued under the Planning and Environment Act 1987; and
  • The final work plan must be approved, and a work authority granted under the MRSDA.

The above process is comprehensive giving consideration to and including protection of the environment, social and aboriginal heritage. Additionally, there is a dedicated team of compliance officers within the Victorian Government (Earth Resources Regulation, Department of Jobs Precincts and Regions) whose sole role is to enforce conditions that have been included in the work plan/work authority.

p.116 “The Basin Plan requires states to identify strategies to address medium, high and very high risks.”

It is confusing that there is little specific information in the Plan as to why extraction of sand and gravel are such a very high risk to the availability and condition of surface water in Northern Victoria; and to a lesser extent Victorian Murray and the Goulburn Murray water resource plan areas as shown in tables 11.2, 11.3 and 11.4 below.

It is as if the risk assessment has been conducted on inherent risk (no controls in place) as opposed to on residual risk as stated in the Plan (p.111).

Appendix B p.865

“A range of Victorian legislation applies directly or indirectly to the management of water at a mine site or quarry including:

  • Mineral Resources Development Act 1990
  • Extractive Industries Development Act 1995
  • Environment Protection Act 1970, State Environment Protection Policies
  • Environment Protection (Scheduled Premises and Exemptions) Regulations 1996
  • Industrial waste management policies
  • Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994
  • Victorian Water Act”

Appendix B p.865 under “Description” column:

• insert “Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006”;
• insert “Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990”;
• insert “Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988”;
• insert “Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth)”;
• remove “Extractive Industries Development Act 1995” repealed 1 January 2010.

In summary, concern is held that it appears earth resources development (sand and gravel extraction) has been assessed for inherent risk and not residual risk giving rise to unexpected medium, high and very high risks in the Plan. Additionally, little evidence was given or referred to substantiate this outcome. Allowance has also not been made for the fact that the extractive industry is very heavily regulated (including by the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006) through the approval process and to subsequent conditions being enforced with dedicated government compliance officers.

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