EDO has launched legal action on behalf of Central Australia’s peak environmental body, the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), challenging the approval of the Northern Territory’s largest ever groundwater licence. 

Our client has filed judicial review proceedings in the Northern Territory Supreme Court, to challenge the November 2021 decision to re-grant a groundwater licence to Fortune Agribusiness.  

The licence has been granted for 30 years and allows for extractions to increase over time so that by approximately year 7 of the project, 40,000 megalitres of water can be extracted each year. This water will be used to irrigate fruit and vegetable export crops at Singleton Station, around 120kms south of Tennant Creek.   

ALEC will argue the approval breaches the Water Act 1992 (NT) and key provisions in the Western Davenport Water Allocation Plan (WAP) designed to protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems.  

Notably, extraction that causes the water table to drop in excess of 15 metres below ground level is prohibited by the WAP. Modelled extraction shows the Singleton Station licence will likely lower parts of the groundwater table in the affected area by 50 metres over 30 years.  

Due to these alleged breaches, ALEC is arguing that the decision must be overturned. 

“The Government is giving away water for free to developers like it’s infinite. It’s not infinite. Our communities and the environment will bear devastating costs if they don’t slow down,” ALEC General Manager Jade Kudrenko said. 

“The Government is proving they will pursue an agenda of large-scale irrigated agriculture, whether or not this can be done sustainably and without irreversibly damaging our precious water. 

“We need a complete overhaul of our Water Act to bring it in line with 21st Century challenges and expectations. Until we fix the systemic problems that led to Singleton, independent scrutiny and rigour over water licensing decisions provided by organisations like ALEC and the EDO is critical.”   

In September 2021, EDO represented ALEC and the Environment Centre NT in a Ministerial Review Panel to challenge the Water Controller’s approval of the Singleton groundwater licence.  

The Water Resources Review Panel came after EDO raised concerns that water law and governance in the NT appeared to be amongst the poorest in the country and proposed amendments to the Northern Territory Water Act

“This is an enormous and incredibly unsustainable development that should have no place in the arid zone,” EDO Managing Lawyer Emma Carmody said.  

“In this case, our client alleges that the Minister could not have granted the licence if she had correctly applied the Water Act and adhered to the existing Water Allocation Plan for the area.  

“Instead, the decision was based on a non-statutory policy that our client argues circumvented the law.   

“This approval process has raised serious questions about government’s commitment to proper environmental assessment, sustainable water management and the rule of law.”