20 Sustainable management of the Lake Eyre Basin rivers 203 water policy frameworks in Queensland that could protect these rivers and their unique landscapes from irreversible damage and destruction. Legislative and policy instruments relevant to water management in Queensland There are currently nine relevant Queensland legislative instruments that impact on the use and management of natural resources in the Lake Eyre Basin (Table 20.1). These can potentially protect its rivers. They relate to environmental protection, resource access and custodianship of the resource. The Water Act, the Wild Rivers Act (now repealed), the Regional Planning Interests Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Sustainable Planning Act, the Vegetation Management Act, the Fisheries Act and the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Act all affect environmental protection of the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin in Queensland. They can all be overridden by the power of the Coordinator-General under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act to promote development approvals under the provisions of ‘coordinated projects’ or ‘projects of State significance’. Legislative instruments for resource access in Queensland include the Water Act, the Mineral Resources Act and the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act (and the Petroleum Act). While the Water Act legislates the sustainable allocation and management of the Basin’s water resources, the Mineral Resources Act and the Petroleum and Gas Act can significantly and perversely affect the rivers and particularly groundwater resources, including the internationally iconic Great Artesian Basin. The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act and the Land Act promote custodianship of the cultural values of the water, but offer low-level protection to cultural heritage sites and values, and limited protection to the sustainable use and development of leasehold lands. Many regulatory mechanisms can affect access and management of the rivers and groundwater systems in Queensland’s Lake Eyre Basin. Their effectiveness in environmental protection, particularly in constraining degrading natural resource development, depends considerably on the views and policies of the government of the time. Water regulation in the Lake Eyre Basin In the mid-1990s, an entrepreneur proposed a large irrigated cotton development on two properties, adjacent to Cooper Creek and upstream of Windorah (see Chapter 1). This proposal was strongly rejected by the local community, the Australian public and scientists (see Chapter 17). The proposal was the catalyst for the development of the initial statutory water plans for the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers and the Cooper Creek, the dawn of a new approach to water resource regulation in the Lake Eyre Basin. The first statutory water plan in the Lake Eyre Basin, the Water Resource Plan (WRP), was developed for Cooper Creek (approved 7/2/00), followed by the Georgina and Diamantina WRP (Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2004). These are implemented by resource operations plans (ROPs). The initial Cooper Creek water plan included a strategic and an operational focus and so a ROP was deemed unnecessary. All subsequent WRPs had accompanying ROPs. WRPs are based on the best available science, with extensive and transparent public consultation. They are required to be reviewed every
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