Submission 2009

1.  Agreement between States.

A major concern of the GAB Protection Group is that the Queensland govt. now intends to auction off GAB water licences, as NSW has just done.   We believe this sale must be prevented at all costs.    It is essential to have an agreement signed between the three states and N.T. to not sell off any GAB licences, and an agreement between all states about the sustainable use of GAB water.   We need national co-ordination on the management of the GAB water, or else Federal intervention in the matter.    At present, we have the ridiculous situation where the Federal govt. on one hand is buying back water licences, while the State govts. are selling them off.  


2.  Need for further funding.

There is a real and urgent need for increased govt. funding for the Cap & Pipe scheme.   All scientific evidence points to the fact that the Great Artesian Basin is not replenishing as is claimed (see Point 4), and it is imperative to stop the wastage of free-flowing bores.   It is equally vital that funds are not obtained for capping, by selling off water “saved” through capping – this is totally illogical, as it wastes even more GAB water, and will deter bore-owners from investing in capping their bores.    Also the vast majority of the GAB licences sold at the Walgett auction in July, were sold to people (or entities) who still had free-flowing uncapped bores.   They hadn’t bothered to cap or pipe their bores, nor attempted to reduce wastage or recycle, but instead simply bought more water.   Yet it was claimed that these licences were sold to fund the cap & pipe program, and to ‘create new regional businesses’.

At the present time all applications for any funding for cap & pipe ended last June, and “expressions of interest” cannot be submitted until March 2010 – and that is just for the submission of proposals for consideration.   I quote from the dept. information:  “Expressions of interest will be called for in March 2010 with applications prioritised in May/June 2010.  Planning (survey and design of projects) will then take place, leading up to implementation of the bore and piping works for approved schemes in financial year commencing July 2011”.    Therefore it will be at least 2 years before any further projects are funded or commenced, at the earliest.   This is a further two years of wasted water, before any govt. assisted projects are even commenced. (see Point 4)

At the Artesian BoreWater Users Association AGM (Narrabri Thurs. 6/8/09), Gary Coady stated that he was now giving us notice that DWE intends to start charging for bore-water from free-flowing bores, in three years’ time.    Therefore it is now a matter of urgency, that two things must be done.  Firstly, the govt. must make funds available – by means of low-interest loans, grants, subsidies or some other assistance (the details of this will obviously have to be worked through with the state and federal govt. departments) to make it possible for people who have not yet done so, to start urgently capping and piping their bores.   Now – not in 2 years’ time.   Secondly, the DWE must speed up the process of capping and funding  –  the applications, approvals, paperwork, works, etc. – and will need to increase their staff to do this (see Point 3).  

Another problem that needs to be urgently addressed, is that there is only one DWE drilling rig which can go to the depth required for re-conditioning a bore.  All the private drilling rigs (for hire) are being used by the mines.  This slows everything down enormously of course, and therefore funding is also needed for more rigs and equipment for cap & pipe work.


3.   Employment potential

And this would obviously generate great employment – and be a very good thing.   George Gates (DWE Groundwater Manager) and Ranald Warby (GAB Advisory Group) – two men who voted to auction off GAB water licences –  both stated the reason that they wanted to sell the GAB licences, was for ‘socio-economic’ reasons, to bring businesses and jobs to the country areas.  Water Minister Phillip Costa has said the same thing, several times – he has recently written this in a letter to the C.W.A.   Yet to the best of our knowledge, not a single new business started as a result of that licence auction.

But what better employment, or better cause, could there be than to have teams of people employed in the industry of capping and piping bores, and saving water?   A lot of manpower will be needed for the actual capping & piping work, plus increased staffing in govt. departments is urgently needed to speed up the paperwork, and the process of getting approvals, grants etc.   People have reported big delays there, through no fault of the DWE, they are just understaffed and underfunded.   It appears that there is an embargo on replacing any staff who leave – and we want to unlock the embargo on replacing staff who leave, as it relates to GABSI –  and accelerate all staffing replacements.   Again, it all comes back to needing more funding.

If the capping & piping program could be speeded up, then this would be a real stimulus for regional and socio-economic development –  it will bring jobs and industry to rural areas, and will speed up the saving of the GAB water.    Why do all industries they are trying to create in the bush, have to be linked to applications for water licences?  What could be better than an industry in saving water?

As everyone is aware, rural unemployment is at an all-time high.  Could anything be better than teams of people, to not only be gainfully employed – but also learning a multitude of new skills and trades.   The skills they will learn while recondititioning, capping and piping bores, include mining, plumbing, trenching, concreting, irrigation (pipe laying) etc. –  not to mention driving and operating machinery, trucks etc.   Aboriginal unemployment is also at a record high, what a wonderful opportunity this would be for them.   It has already been proven how greatly work in this area has benefitted them.    It was stated that Julia Gillard flew to the U.S. last month to seek advice in creating ‘clean green’ jobs in Australia, as the Federal Govt. has allocated $94 million to spend on this project of creating green training places and jobs.   Could there be anything greener or more worthwhile than this?    Massive employment in the bush, saving essential water, and stimulating the whole regional economy.

So there would be a surge of employment, and the flow-on benefits of such employment to rural and regional communities, towns and businesses, would be enormous.


4.   GAB is NOT replenishing as is claimed

The main point is that we seriously dispute the government’s claim that the GAB is being replenished by rainfall.     In the government’s most recent report from the Bureau of Rural Sciences (Habermehl et al 2009), it states “recharge rates range from 0.5mm to 10mm (millimeters) per year, with a maximum of approximately 40mm per year.”    How could this water, travelling at that rate, possibly recharge the Basin in less than many millions of years?    Another paper (Love et al 2000) claims that by using Cl dating methods, recharge in south-west of the GAB is between 0.08 and 0.24 mm (millimetres) per year, and flow velocity is 0.24 m per year.    To quote the DWE’s Water Sharing Plan document: “Water flow through the sandstone is extremely slow, it is estimated that the time taken for water to travel from the recharge areas to the western parts of the GAB can be up to two million years”.     And this is the best case scenario – the other scenario is worse. 

The other point of view (which is widely accepted by many scientists, hydrogeologists and professors) is that there is strong scientific evidence to prove that the waters of the GAB are ancient, stored in the earth’s crust – and are finite.   These experts state that the GAB will run out, it is a closed system, but whether it lasts us 20 years or 100 years, depends entirely on how we manage it.   At the present time, we have already wasted 100 times the volume of Sydney Harbour (that is wastage, not usage) and we are at present wasting water equivalent to the volume of Sydney Harbour (0.5 million megalitres) each year.   

So the best case scenario (according to the govt. documents) is that it will take several million years to replenish – the worst case scenario, is that it won’t replenish at all.    In reality then, does it matter which theory is correct, as it is ludicrous to suggest the govt’s estimated rate of recharge (if it exists at all) could be of any benefit to the GAB?      We claim (and independent hydrogeologists have agreed) that this rate is so miniscule, that it cannot ethically be called “recharge” –  which implies that the water level is being topped-up, when in actual fact it is not being replenished at all. 

It has been stated that one reason for this inability of governments to comprehend the real situation (that the GAB is not recharging) lies in the text books on groundwater hydrology that they use  –  they all show mathematical models of groundwater flow based on the key assumption that the groundwater is recharged from surface rainfall.   As a consequence, the related computer models (on which they also rely) of groundwater flow are very seriously misleading.   As the govt.-funded NCGRT (National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training) say on their website:  “Because existing data is limited or non-existent, management decisions are being made using hydrogeologic conceptual models that can be grossly misleading.”

We believe that the first essential step is that the governments and the committees in charge of the GAB – must admit that the GAB is not recharging.   This is the very basis of the problem.   While any govt. body perpetrates the myth that the GAB is being replenished by rainfall, they are promoting a gross deception of the public.    And it is on their theory that the Basin is being replenished, that their policy is based.  So therefore they must first admit it is not replenishing, and then change their policies on management of the GAB accordingly.    As a matter of urgency, we must have a new policy about the best way to conserve and utilize the remaining water in the Basin, based on the fact that it is finite.   

In the NSW State Groundwater Policy Framework Document, it clearly states:

 “The precautionary principle states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.

This precautionary principle is particularly applicable to groundwater management in NSW.  There are often long time scales associated with shifts in the condition of many groundwater systems and our knowledge of groundwater is often poor.”

The govt. says (again in its own paper) that very little is known about the GAB, and that “as our knowledge of the GAB is far from complete, management decisions must err on the side of caution until we can be sure of the consequences of any actions that may damage or destroy these aquifer ecosystems.”  

This is stated in the govt. documents – so we are requesting the govt. to look closely at the past disastrous government policies concerning the inland river systems, lakes and wetlands, and that this time to “err on the side of caution”.     And that what water is remaining must be used sensibly, and all waste eliminated, so that it will last as long as possible for future generations.


5.  Impact of loss of the GAB

It is not only agriculture and industries reliant on GAB water, that are being threatened by the loss of the GAB.  Many rural communities and towns are totally dependant on this water.    Wastage of this valuable resource jeopardizes their very existence, and the sustainability of these towns and communities in the future.

When they sell off these GAB licences, claims are made of job-creation in the fields of irrigation, aquaculture and mining, yet the lives and businesses of tens of thousands of people are being placed in jeopardy by the wastage of the GAB water.   Whole rural communities – enormous areas of rural NSW and Queensland will shut down, when the GAB runs dry.


6.   The money made from the GAB (and what is being lost)

In Professor Lance Endersbee’s paper 404, published by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, he states that “the wastage of GAB water equals a loss of $14 billion each year in total value of future national production, or $38 million each day!”  (and please note this was published 10 years ago, the figures would be much more alarming today).

“This waste is of such truly enormous proportions and should be corrected immediately. In all these circumstances, the costs of immediate action are quite trivial in relation to the colossal damage that is occurring to the national economy as each day passes”.

It is not only the agriculture and businesses that rely on the GAB that will be lost when it runs dry, but the country towns as well.   The complete devastation to the rural communities and economy would be staggering.

In light of the enormous value of the GAB to the Australian economy, and the more enormous potential future loss to our economy – how can the government even hesitate about immediately putting $100 million annually into the capping and piping program?   The Federal government does not hesitate to send many millions of dollars in aid overseas – the Prime Minister today announced $500 million in aid for Indonesian schools. We believe there is far greater urgency for money to be spent saving our own water supply and dependent economy.

I will quote Endersbee’s “Value of the Resource” (from ATSE paper 404) below:  (and please bear in mind how the figures will have increased over the past 10 years).   And also bear in mind how much water has been wasted over the last 10 years, since this was written – and ignored.

Value of the Resource

“The present groundwater flow from the Great Artesian Basin supports a total level of production in the region of $3.5 billion per annum, according to a press release. Much of that production would not be possible, or would be different and much less, without the availability of groundwater.

The current artesian bore discharge is about 0.5 million megalitres per annum. It is estimated that 80% of the current outflow is wasted because of inefficient delivery systems. Thus, the useful part of the outflow is 100,000 megalitres per annum.

It follows that the water that is used effectively enables and supports a level of total economic activity equal to $35,000 for each megalitre. That simply reflects the critical importance of these secure supplies of water to the regional economy.

But 80% of the water that is extracted from the Basin is wasted. With a level of wasted water of 80%, or 400,000 megalitres per annum, the annual loss in potential future production is 400,000 x $35,000.

This wastage equals a loss of $14 billion each year in total value of future national production, or $38 million each day!   With these huge numbers, it really does not matter how we assess the present value of future lost production.

It will be very big indeed.   With 3,100 flowing boreholes, the loss to the future national economy of the 80% waste is equal, on average, to $12,000 per day per borehole.  That water is irreplaceable.

This waste is of truly enormous proportions and should be corrected immediately. In all these circumstances, the costs of immediate action are quite trivial in relation to the colossal damage that is occurring to the national economy as each day passes.”

End quote.

In summary then, there is urgent need for an agreement between the states as to how the GAB is managed, and urgent need for increased govt. funding for cap & pipe, which will in turn create enormous potential for regional employment.   The GAB Protection Group is requesting a moratorium on all further sales of GAB water licences until an agreement is reached.