The Northern Territory’s peak environmental bodies, Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) and the Environment Center NT (ECNT) appeared before a Ministerial Review Panel on Friday September 3 to challenge the Water Controller’s approval of the NT’s largest ever groundwater licence.  

Represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, our clients argued that the water licence was granted without due regard to legislative requirements and without proper consideration of the merits of the project. 

Read our submissions to the Review Panel here. 

The proposal by Fortune Agribusiness will extract 40 billion litres of groundwater each year for 30 years to irrigate perennial export crops at Singleton Station, around 120kms south of Tennant Creek.  

To put this in perspective, the largest groundwater licence in all of NSW allows extraction of up to 15 billion litres per year.  

The proposed Singleton horticultural project would be one of Australia’s largest fruit and vegetable farms in arid Central Australia.  

EDO’s Managing Lawyer for Freshwater Dr Emma Carmody says the approval reflects sweeping regulatory failure in the Northern Territory. 

“This proposal was approved with no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and little knowledge of the aquifer from which 144 bores will draw 40,000ML of water annually,” Emma said, “That’s the equivalent of 16,000 Olympic swimming pools. 

“The government was prepared to approve the largest groundwater licence in the history of the NT on the basis of inadequate modelling, limited knowledge about impacted aquifers, incomplete studies into culturally significant ecosystems and no EIS. We therefore have no confidence that the government will do anything other than continue to tick boxes to allow this development to proceed, regardless of the impacts. 

“If this decision is not overturned, it will lock in an incredibly unsustainable development in an arid region and compromise the future health of this aquifer and its culturally significant groundwater-dependent ecosystems.  

EDO’s Managing Lawyer for the Northern Territory Stacey Ella said, “These matters raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to proper environmental assessment, sustainable water management and the rule of law.”

This Water Resources Review Panel comes after EDO raised concerns that water law and governance in the NT appears to be amongst the poorest in the country, and proposed amendments to the Northern Territory Water Act.  
Read our submissions to the Review Panel here.

From left to right: Natalie Czapski (Solicitor – Northern Territory, EDO), Stacey Ella (Managing Lawyer – Northern Territory, EDO), Shar Molloy (Co-Director, ECNT)