Federal government’s water gift to Adani exposed

The Environmental Defenders Office Queensland said new documents raise fresh questions about why the water impacts of Adani’s huge North Galilee Water Scheme will not be assessed under federal laws.

Queensland is suffering through a severe drought. Despite this, federal environment minister Melissa Price decided in September not to apply the “water trigger” assessment on Adani’s proposal to extract river water for up to 60 years, expand a dam and build a pipeline to transport the water to its mine.

This was despite federal environment law dictating that coalmines that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources must undergo a full environmental assessment.

On November 7, the Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) said that new documents released under a Freedom of Information request raised fresh questions about why the water impacts of Adani’s huge North Galilee Water Scheme — its pipeline from the Suttor River in Queensland to its Carmichael mine site — will not be assessed under federal laws.

The ABC reported that it had seen documents showing that the federal environment department ruled against water experts from the Department of Agriculture and Water who recommended applying the water trigger to Adani’s plan to pump 12 billion litres of river water to the Carmichael mine.

The water trigger amendment was made to the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in 2013. It allows for greater scrutiny of the impact of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources.

The documents include submissions from government departments on Adani’s referral to the federal Department of Environment and Energy over the North Galilee Water Scheme.

The water scheme has been given the green light without the need for an environmental impact statement and no federal assessment of its impact on water resources.

Community groups have questioned why the project’s impacts to water resources will not be assessed under the “water trigger”. The documents received by Lock the Gate confirm the community’s concerns.

A submission from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources advised that the North Galilee Water Scheme could “have a significant impact(s) on a water resource, in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal development, protected under the EPBC Act”.

A submission from Geoscience Australia also called into question Adani’s own referral documents to the federal government, indicating the company failed to consider groundwater dependent ecosystems, despite there being a large number in the affected area.

EDO Qld principal solicitor Sean Ryan said the contents of the documents were “concerning”.

“These new documents raise serious questions as to why the water impacts of this project are not being thoroughly assessed under federal laws,” Ryan said.

“The water trigger contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was specifically designed to deal with actions involving large coalmining projects with a significant impact on a water resource,” he continued.

“It’s there to protect Australia’s precious water resources, and make sure that coal projects that impact them are thoroughly assessed at a federal level.

“The North Galilee Water Scheme Project is expressly for large coal mines in the Galilee Basin.”

The documents show that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources “considers this project could have a significant impact on water resources”. Its advice “confirms the fears of drought-affected agricultural landholders”, he concluded.