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Byron Shire
May 18, 2024

On the art of stealing water for profit

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Juliette Fredonnet

Australia is now experiencing devastating fires. So far, it is estimated that over 18 million hectares (46 million acres) have burned.

The response from our leaders has been deplorable.

We are experiencing a disastrous drought that is now leading the NSW state government to consider evacuating as many as 90 towns if they completely run out of water.

Acting against best interests of Australians

Our government has a lot to account for in regards to the management of our most precious resource: water.

A report from the Australia Institute says that 20 to 30 privately owned dams have been constructed in the Murray-Darling Basin in recent years.

Built with public money for the exclusive use of big business, private dams have been reducing the flow of water to downstream users and the environment.

While information on the cost of their taxpayer subsidy is limited, the report says that just two of these dams cost taxpayers nearly $30 million and that over $200 million was spent on dam-related projects in the Murray-Darling area through the Commonwealth’s $4 billion water efficiency program.

To sum it up, your tax money has been used to steal your water, wreck the environment and make a small group of people a ton of money.

But let’s jump to another huge draw on the availability of water in this country: floodplain harvesting for agribusiness, like the cotton industry.

Water harvesting is done by building levees and canals which direct flood waters into giant storage tanks instead of allowing it to naturally make its way into the river or into the soil.

This practice has been unregulated, and unmonitored in NSW, and has diverted huge volumes of water in the northern basin of the Murray-Darling system into irrigation storages.

Water for the ecosystem?

The ecological disaster of the Darling river is a good example of the destruction that takes place when water is being diverted on a grand scale to private interests. The population runs out of water, farmers stop farming and the ecosystem collapses.

Underlying 22 per cent of the continent, the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is the only source of fresh water for much of inland Australia. It extends beneath parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory and is one of the largest natural underground water reservoirs in the world.

Water for industry

In recent years, the GAB has been under threat from the coal and coal seam gas industries.

Underneath the GAB’s water lie some of the world’s most extensive methane rich coalseams. To get the methane out, water (from 5 to 60 million litres per fracking well), sand and chemicals are forced down at high pressure into the aquifer layers, to fracture the coalseams and get to the gas.

The result is that large amounts of chemically loaded, hazardous water have to be kept from reaching other reserves of uncontaminated water during the period of extraction (or after the well is sealed), but also safely ‘disposed of’, which is another expression for ‘elaborately dumped’.

According to federal government estimates, the coal seam gas industry alone could extract 300 billion litres per year over the next 25 years, most of it from the GAB.

No independent oversight

Alongside pollution issues, the water hungry CSG industry is depleting the aquifers of the water needed to build the pressure necessary to push the water up to the springs and creeks.

And if the water is not flowing, then the cycle of life is broken.

Then you have the proposed Adani coal mine, which will be Australia’s biggest and has been granted unlimited access to groundwater by the Queensland government.

The mine could draw 26 million litres of water a day, and it will conduct its own review of its groundwater model, without independent or government oversight. Its licence is written in a way that means there is little chance of triggering a halt to mining.

I am running out of space to talk about all the ways our government has been selling our water to the highest bidders, with no regard for the impact on the population and our precious and unique ecosystem.

In section 100 of the Commonwealth Of Australia Constitution Act 1900, it is written that ‘the Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.’

Under this section, any legislation or trade of commerce that is restricting the use of water for Australia’s residents, through building private dams, water harvesting, or selling our water to CSG or coal businesses is, on top of being highly immoral and destructive, totally illegal.

Our government is mightily corrupt and it is now our duty, for our very survival, to fight for our most essential right: our access to precious water.

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  1. Yes …. that is what we have been saying for years.
    The ‘sold water’ is stolen / allowed by our members
    of parliament. We all ‘fall down’ due to coal & coal
    seam gas water extraction. No farmers let alone
    ecosystem left. I’m fracked! The morons still
    insist there’s No climate change.

  2. Well done Juliette for putting this vital information out, albeit on the tiny website of a local paper in a corner of the land. Criminal activity between corporations and the Australian Government Corporation is destroying this beautiful country without redress. Any mention of this aetiology on the endless, national, mind numbing climate newscasts? As the same corporations fund the media, I think not.

  3. Ms Fredonnet:

    Interesting article, the *sentiments* of which I agree with; however, some claims need verifying and should be supported with sources / references – just so one can’t be accused of uninformed / ill-informed hysteria.

    Sources are needed for the following:

    * the “report from the Australia Institute” (para #5);

    * “private dams have been reducing, or even stopping, the flow of water to downstream users and the environment” (para #6);

    * “a report says that just two of these dams cost taxpayers nearly $30 million and that over $200 million was spent on dam-related projects” (para #7);

    * “federal government estimates, the coal seam gas industry alone could extract 300 billion litres per year over the next 25 years” (para #17).

    While those statements may well be true (I’m not disputing them), I do like to be able to verify “facts” and claims made in the media – especially in such an esteemed organ as The Echo. Sources / references would greatly aid in establishing credibility.

  4. Great article, and the importance of keeping the water in the ground for the use of the ecosystems that depend on it, and the land owners and farmers who need to survive, rather than fracking companies, cannot be overstated.

    To use such water to make a quick buck from mining a fossil fuel which will only contribute greatly to the currently unfolding climate catastrophe, which will contribute to increasing scarcity of groundwater as the climate continues to become warmer and drier, is beyond foolish, and ethically indefensible.

    To cause such environmental destruction to mine for fossil fuels when renewable energy is now not only cheaper than fossil fuels but creates many more jobs and has comparatively little environmental impact, and none on water, is gobsmackingly stupid and definitely not in the interests of the Australian public.

  5. Should all sources be ratified then it would be appropriate to ‘go high’. Create a community, campaign whatever, to support an International Legal case investigating the violation of the Australian Constitution. All levels of Government are locked into the Political Culture. The latter has lost the real meaning of Democratic Representation, the Rule of Law and the Sentient Rights of Life. Corporations dictate governance and $$$$$ and the Market profits are just so seductive to the Political Culture who is lost in its own image of Power.

    The recent ongoing Fires are affecting the whole Globe. Media reports abound on the issue. We witness Ecocide and it will continue. Well done Juliette….Lets return to the higher legal principles that curtail these violations. Once done ‘go high’ for remedy!


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