Legislative Council

QUESTION: Eyre Peninsula groundwater - reporting obligations

March 28th, 2017

On the 28th of March, Mark asked the Minister for Water and the River Murray a question about reporting obligations under the Water Industry Act.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I received some correspondence last week from the Eyre Peninsula Water Action Group and I note the correspondence went to a number of members of parliament. In this letter, signed by the secretary of the group, John Hunwick, there is a claim that the minister has failed to comply with reporting obligations under the act. In particular, the claim is that there are annual reviews for the years 2014-15 and 2015-16 that have not been tabled in parliament, and also a five-yearly Eyre Peninsula demand and supply statement which they claim is also late. According to the Eyre Peninsula Water Action Group the excuse that was given by the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management Board, I presume, was:

The assessment of the 2014-15 water year was undertaken in-house only, and the 2015 annual review document was not prepared. 

Given the fundamental importance of groundwater to all who live on the Eyre Peninsula, my questions of the minister are:

1. Is the minister in breach of the Water Industry Act 2012?

2. Regardless of statutory reporting requirements, when will these reports be tabled in parliament?

3. If they are not to be tabled, why not?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): I thank the honourable member for his most important questions. I too am a frequent correspondee of Mr Hunwick and I am, in fact, quite used to answering his questions.

The questions posed by the honourable member, which have been, I suppose, translated from correspondence, are not accurately reported, in my view, and certainly not the honourable member's terminology in terms of an excuse from the NRM board. In fact, it is not an excuse, it is actually an explanation of what has happened. The South Australian government has, of course, as we would be expected to, invested significantly in the management and planning of water resources, particularly in the Eyre Peninsula region. Our investment enables us to monitor and report on the potential for water shortages and then management responses according to that projection.

A key measure is the Eyre Peninsula demand and supply statement, which annually reviews water security on the Eyre Peninsula and estimates when water demand may exceed supply. The fourth review of the demand and supply statement was completed, I am advised, in November 2015, and it demonstrated that water supply on the Eyre Peninsula is secure until 2025-26.

Underpinning the demand and supply statements for Eyre Peninsula are groundwater status reports, which report annually on the condition of the Musgrave and Southern Basin's prescribed groundwater resources. These reports are prepared using data collected from an extensive groundwater monitoring network, and ensure the demand and supply statements are based on the latest and best available science.

I am advised that, under the Water Industry Act 2012, we are required to manage situations where water demand is expected to exceed available supply. Where this occurs, a planning process is then established five years before supply is estimated to be exceeded, so we have plenty of time to put in place whatever measures we need to prepare for that. Based on the most recent demand and supply statement, I am advised there is no need to commence planning for an alternative supply on the Eyre Peninsula until at least 2020 and, additionally, that could be pushed out on further annual reviews.

In accordance with Water for Good, South Australia's water security plan, the government is currently comprehensively reviewing the Eyre Peninsula demand and supply statement. In addition to the demand and supply statement, the groundwater resources in both the Southern Basins and Musgrave Prescribed Wells Area are managed by a recently developed water allocation plan.

The Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management Board endorsed the plan, which I considered and adopted back in June 2016. In developing the plan, the Eyre Peninsula NRM Board invested in considerable new science to better understand the operation of the groundwater resources into the prescribed wells area, and the NRM board has also sought the community's input prior to settling on the endorsed version of the plan. My understanding is that these plans are regularly updated to the NRM's website. I will check that that has been done in these instances, but I would be surprised if it has not.

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