Managing The Hidden Water Beneath Our Feet

Drought has much of Australia in its grip, and the outlook is for more of the same. As dams and rivers dry, farms and towns turn to groundwater – that is, the water held underground in soil or rock and accessed by bores. At the same time, groundwater trading markets have become more active and companies are reportedly seeking to control large supplies of good-quality groundwater in northern Victoria through major land acquisitions. These developments can activate the law in different ways.Transferring a groundwater licence to a new landowner is a ‘tick and flick’ approval process. But a water authority considering a new licence application to use groundwater commercially, or a renewal of a licence, which only lasts 15 years, must properly consider matters like the possible effects on neighbours’ access to groundwater and the larger environmental impacts. So, do our laws include the right safeguards for more intensive groundwater use? And how can the public and experts know if these are the right decisions when the process is not transparent?

Dr Rebecca Nelson, Senior Lecturer at Melbourne Law School, touch on the matters, in her latest article published in Pursuit.