21 Water governance in Queensland 219 oil operators, and may have significant ecological impacts on the flood channels in terms of affecting flows (see Chapter 22). Regulating floodplain flows in the Lower Balonne River, Queensland Much of the concern about the future of the Lake Eyre Basin rivers stems from the experiences of rapid development in the Murray–Darling Basin, affecting livelihoods (see Chapters 14– 16) and ecosystems (Kingsford 2000), including the most recent development on the Condamine–Balonne river catchment. The Condamine River flows into the Balonne River to supply the Lower Balonne water management area, a braided network of rivers (Bokhara, Birrie, Culgoa and Narran Rivers see Chapter 14). Small flows stay in defined channels, but medium to large flows spill out of channels to flood large areas of the floodplain. From 1989 to 2004, there were significant tensions over the harvesting of floodplain flows for consumptive use (see Chapter 15). Irrigation in the St George area started around 1956 with water supply from the Jack Taylor Weir. The irrigation scheme was extended by the construction of the Beardmore Dam and associated works (1968–72, 81 800 ML capacity). The earliest water licences were granted to graziers to ‘drought proof’ their properties with small areas of irrigated pasture. In 1967, there was little actual irrigation downstream of St George, with numbers of surface water licences for water harvesting sharply increasing by 1989–90 across the state, with most coming from this region. These water harvesting licences allowed users to pump water from the river once the river reached a certain pumping threshold. There were no volumetric limits on these licences and neither was the volume of water measured or paid for beyond a nominal administration fee. This water was often pumped using a large group of pumps, capable of rapid extraction of water, and then stored in large off-river storages on the floodplain (Fig. 21.2). The Queensland Water Commission wrote to water users in the Lower Balonne area, in about June 1989, referring to ministerial approval of applications, backdated to 1982. The Honourable Don Neal from the National Party was the Member for Balonne in the Legislative Assembly and the Minister for Water Resources and Maritime Services at the time. There was also an increase in allocations (now called ‘water entitlements’) granted out of regulated storage from Beardmore Dam and Jack Taylor Weir, at St George around 1989. In 1989, the National Party lost power, after 30 years in government. Significant discretionary power to issue licences was available for the Department under the Water Resources Act 1989 (Qld). Downstream graziers were alarmed at the increase in the approval of water licence applications because this was the water they relied on for their livelihoods (see Chapters 14 and 15). They agitated for limits on water harvesting from the Lower Balonne and, from 1991, a moratorium was placed on the issuing of further water licences in the Lower Balonne. Though the Water Resources Act 1989 did not allow the Department authority to control access to or allocate flood water, the Department could, by designating the floodplain, control works that obstructed, diverted or reduced the flow of water or floodwater. In other words, the Queensland Government had the ability to control works that interfered with flows on the floodplain, once the process of designation was
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