Karara row hots up

Claire TyrrellCountryman
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State Water Minister Bill Marmion was grilled last week over his decision to allow Gindalbie Metals to draw five gigalitres of water per annum from Mingenew's Parmelia aquifer.

In a strong parliamentary attack, Labor water spokesman Fran Logan called on the Minister to take responsibility for any future damage the miner's drawdown could cause.

He said he was not against Gindalbie Metals' Karara iron ore mine - for which the 5gl per annum will be used - but the Minster's approach lacked foresight.

"It is not a question of whether Karara gets the water. I believe it should get the water, but it should look at how it gets it," he said.

"Rather than taking water from one source, there are options, including desalination and drawing water from other aquifers in the Mingenew area, that could contribute to Karara's overall water needs."

Mr Logan pointed out the potential impact on Mingenew's wetlands because Karara's drawdown represented about 90 per cent of the remaining annual rights to that part of the aquifer.

"With that amount of water being taken, those natural springs are going to disappear," he said.

"(Mr) Marmion would not provide a guarantee those wetlands would not be affected."

Mr Logan also hit out at WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman's absence over the issue.

"While farmers may not be using their full allocation now, they argue this decision takes away options for the future," he said.

"Mr Marmion and Agriculture Minister Terry Redman's failure to stand up for local farmers is disappointing.

"Mr Redman has been missing in action."

A spokesman for Mr Redman said it was the Minister's understanding that only one water application had been received, and that was from Karara Mining.

Mr Redman noted the Department of Agriculture and Food's submission to Karara's licence application, which he said was to ensure all issues were put on the table and could be properly considered ahead of any final decision.

As a part of that process he said the submission also clearly stated "DAFWA is not opposed to Karara Mining being licensed to access the resource".

It was Mr Redman's understanding that the granting of the licence, and its terms, allowed for future negotiations pertaining to any unused allocations.

Mr Redman defended the claim that he was missing in action by saying he supported development in both agriculture and resources in WA.

The Water Minister referred Mr Logan to DoW's Arrowsmith Groundwater Plan, which details water allocation in the Mid West.

A large portion of the latter allocation is taken up by Victorian-based almond growers Select Harvests, which requires up to 20gl per annum from the Parmelia aquifer.

The almond producer also applied for an additional 12gl per year from the adjacent Yaragadee aquifer.

Mr Marmion rejected Mr Logan's claims that there would be no water left for growers.

"This was not a cart blanche approval," he said.

"The licence was assessed properly and in accordance with legislation.

"The Parmelia aquifer is extensive and the five billion-litre licence for Karara represents 17 per cent of the allocation for the Parmelia aquifer."

Mr Marmion also defended the Environmental Protection Authority's decision not to assess Karara's water licence application.

The EPA determined not to assess Karara's application as a process under the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act.

Mr Marmion said the Act, written in 1914, provided appropriate safeguards to prevent adverse environmental impacts from water drawdown.

He said DoW took into account Mingenew's groundwater-dependent ecosystems in its decision.

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