EPWAG – Alive and Well – and Waiting
The recent series of consultations concerning the Draft WAP began in October 2014 when the EP NRM Board held two sessions, one in Port Lincoln and the other at Elliston. The Draft WAP was said to become available by the end of the month. In fact it was not until mid-March that it was finally released for comment.
The initial reaction of members of the Group was that it should be withdrawn because it was not complete. It came in two parts: the Draft Water Allocation Plan, and the MERI section dealing with monitoring. This in itself was not really acceptable because it is essential that the monitoring section be in integral part of the final WAP to make it binding on governments when it is signed off.
The first round of community consultation revealed more problems with the Draft Plan. The most profound was the difficulty most people had in understanding it – especially the section dealing with the 1993 Sustainable Level and the actual location of the trigger points for extraction for each aquifer. Other issues related to the actual number and location of the monitoring points. How often they were to be monitored and for what parameters all needed clarification. More than that, the community wanted to see more monitoring points and not just those selected by the water managers. In particular, points outside the aquifers needed to be monitored over the life of the proposed WAP to keep some sort of measure of any recovery.
Perhaps the main deficiency of the Draft WAP was any commitment to recharging the basins. Both the National Water Initiative and the SA NRM Act (2004) requires the restoration of over-extracted basins to sustainable levels. For EP, that means that all basins from which extractions have been made need, some commitment to recharging them. This does not imply a return to the condition they were in 1850, but a conscious effort at ensuring that, except in times of extreme drought, they are recharged and not stressed by over-extraction.
Another issue of grave concern is the Draft WAP’s change in the environment/extraction ratio. At present it is 60/40 whereas it is proposed to change this to 30/70 for Uley South, effectively halving the amount reserved for the environment and virtually doubling the amount of water available for extraction. The basis of this is nonsensical argument and not scientific reasoning, and time must now be spent determining a better basis and then conveying the outcome to the community before the WAP can be allowed to proceed.
Talks have occurred between EPWAG and the Board and staff to clarify the issues and the timeline for dealing with the various steps needed to approve the Draft WAP. As a result a number of submissions have been made drawing attention to specific issues and the need for more detail if in fact a comprehensive and detailed submission is to be made.
The present cordial relations between all parties has been sufficient for EPWAG to refrain from making public comments about the difficulties being experienced in getting a comprehensive Draft WAP together. Presumably we all want the best outcome for the region – so, for the moment, EPWAG waits.