Limestone Coast water allocation rules to be reviewed

The Limestone Coast Water Allocation plan, identified by Federal members and state industry as the main state barrier to the expansion of the Green Triangle forestry estate, will be reviewed in 2023. In the Limestone Coast, industry is required to comply with the current Limestone Coast Water Allocation plan introduced in 2013 and is up for review in two years’ time.

After risk assessments identified a trend in groundwater decline in high-risk areas of the region, restrictions were placed on irrigators and forestry, The SE Voice has learnt. Rules within the plan do not support the replanting of trees on certain forestry estates. “In many of the management zones we’re just simply precluded from replanting after trees are harvested,” South Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Nathan Paine said. “What that means is we’re losing that estate to other land uses.”

Mr Paine said the Green Triangle was heading towards losing around 30,000 hectares of trees. The Limestone Coast Water Allocation plan sets out the rules for managing the take and use of prescribed water resources. To ensure resource sustainability, the Limestone Coast Landscape Board stated the plan aimed to balance the water needs of industry, the community, First Nations and the environment.

There is no rule in the water allocation plan that forbids forestry companies from replanting on harvested land, but it does require forestry hold water licences for plantation estates. The lead authority in relation to water allocation policy for the region, the Limestone Coast Landscape Board said environmental concerns over declining groundwater trends saw to the introduction of rules that meant forestry could not replant on harvested land in “high risk” areas.

“In 2012 and 2019, risk assessments were undertaken to assess the condition of the region’s water resources,” a Landscape Board spokesperson said. “In some areas in the region, groundwater levels had declined more than six metres, potentially causing catastrophic consequences to environmental assets.”

The Landscape Board says this activity would threaten groundwater dependent ecosystems – many of which have state and national values that require protection. In management areas found to be high risk, a scheduled program of water allocation reductions was implemented. This program involved irrigators receiving reductions to their water licences and required forestry companies reduce their plantation estate at clear-fell by not replanting.

The Landscape Board said these restrictions on water use only occur in a few management areas and were only applied until the reduction targets are met. “In any other management area forestry companies can continue to replant as per their company schedules,” the spokesperson said.

With the plan up for review in 2023, the review of the water allocation plan will be “very involved and will be done in consultation with industry, community, First Nations and in consideration of the environment”, the Landscape Board told The SE Voice. “It will assess the effectiveness of the current water allocation plan in achieving its objectives, update the science and modelling that underpins the plan and include the most up-to-date data available,” a board spokesperson said.

“The forestry plantation estate is a significant user of the region’s water resources and will continue to be considered in the region’s water policy settings.”

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