Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 3 May 2007) . . Page.. 893 ..
The Water Resources Bill 2007 supersedes the current Water Resources Act 1998. It implements a new approach to water allocation, brings our legislative framework into line with our national commitments in regard to water resources and introduces a range of improvements in the administration of the ACT’s water resources.
I foreshadowed the need for a new approach to water allocation when I presented an amendment to the Water Resources Act in 2005 to commence a moratorium on granting further water allocations.
I pointed out then that the current act requires that applications be processed on a first come, first served basis with minimal consideration of the proposed use of the water. If all the water available for abstraction has been accessed, then new applicants are likely to be refused. This holds true even if the new application is for a beneficial community purpose such as irrigation of public areas or publicly accessible school ovals. A more equitable system was needed that would consider what the water is to be used for.
The moratorium currently in place expires at the end of August 2007 and it is intended to have the new approach in place by that date.
When developing this new approach the views of the community were sought. Understandably, there was a considerable diversity of views, principally between those who already had access to water resources and wished to protect them and others who were seeking a water entitlement or were conscious of protecting public assets.
Nevertheless, there were some points of consensus. People generally agreed that different water uses should be accorded different priorities and that use of water for public projects was a high priority. There was also a common view that the use of surface water or groundwater for residential irrigation should be accorded a low priority as these users have other alternatives to the use of mains water.
While the bill covers the taking of all surface water and groundwater under the control of the territory, the taking of water for urban water supply will not be materially affected. The bill makes it clear that water from the water supply catchments can only be used for urban water supply.
For all other water, this bill implements a water allocation scheme based on three priorities for water use. The highest priority is assigned to water for stock and for domestic use on properties where there is no access to urban water supply. This priority reflects the longstanding situation that there are rural properties whose basic existence as a rural property is dependent on access to water to support stock and domestic needs.
The second-level priority is accorded to commercial and public uses consistent with the territory plan. These uses could be a nursery business, an orchard, a golf course or, in the public realm, irrigation of school grounds or parkland.