Water Lawyers Australia
In Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, water is a precious resource, which requires extremely sensitive management. The right to use and control water is primarily the responsibility of individual State legislatures, although the Federal Government has the power to intervene under certain circumstances, as it did regarding the issue of over-allocation of water in south-east Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin in 2007 and the formation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. While State water authorities use a licensing system for irrigation regulation, control of surface water and the construction of water dams and other water infrastructure, each State has different laws, leading to complexity for industry growers and investors as well as irrigated agriculture and horticulture peak bodies and farmer associations.
The Effective use of Irrigation
Irrigation is practised extensively in Australia, to supplement rainfall and thereby maximise crop yields. To be truly effective, artificial irrigation methods should influence the entire growth process, from seedbed preparation onwards. The key to good irrigation is uniformity. This requires knowledge of specialist equipment, system design, soil composition, land formation and the individual characteristics of plant species and crop water requirements.
It is the task of farmers to ensure that agricultural irrigation systems encourage plant growth while minimising water loss, soil erosion, leaf burn and salinity through water table imbalances.
Common Reasons for Water Loss are
The majority of Australian and worldwide irrigation systems work using surface flows, although there is now a welcome increase in the use of sprinklers, centre-pivots, lateral-move and drip-irrigation, which are methods designed to minimise water loss, particularly through runoff and evaporation. The use of sprinklers reduces water use by up to 80% compared to surface irrigation methods, such as uncontrolled flooding, border irrigation and furrow irrigation, which mainly work using gravity. However, non-gravity systems usually require energy for pumps to pressurise water, which contributes to costs of production.
The choice of irrigation system is determined by a number of factors, including soil type, crop type, land topography, water availability, power availability, the area of the land to be irrigated, water storage capacity on the farm, financial resources and availability of local labour. Advances in metering technology continue to be critical to maximising efficiency and reducing cost and in turn supporting water sharing plans and enforcement of water regulations.
Irrigation is Critical to Agriculture
In Australia, irrigated land represents just a small percentage of tilled agricultural land yet provides 30% of the gross value of Australian agricultural production, which has risen to $54 billion, according to official figures published in 2016.
Irrigation is also a major factor in driving regional economies, generating up to three-and-a-half times its cost in dependent economic activity. Irrigated farms have higher levels of labour, engineering, technical support and production. These benefits are delivered locally, making irrigation a dynamic and influential champion of Australia’s rural communities, which have suffered hardship and tough challenges in recent years.
Many high-value, agricultural commodities are largely dependent on irrigation. These include cotton, vegetables, sugar, fruit, nuts, grapes, dairy products, sheep and cattle. Water security is essential, to ensure production of these commodities remains consistent in times of drought or over-allocation.
Government policies appear to be working, as agricultural water use decreased 15% in 2014 – 2015 with the largest savings made in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.
Specialists in Water Licensing and Rights
For all our agribusiness clients, the maintenance of water rights and licences is vital to the continuation of their businesses.
Farm operations of all sizes are especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather compared to other Australian industries and must be prepared for low periods or even the total absence of rainfall. Kingfisher Law’s solicitors specialise in licence applications and the security of water rights.
Water use Efficiency Projects
Most water use efficiency projects are funded by Commonwealth under various initiatives, including the On Farm Further Irrigation Efficiency Program and the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program, which subsidise key rural water projects, intended to improve the efficiency and outcomes of water use management. These programs are further supplemented by each individual State.
To encourage water efficiency and discourage waste, many projects offer incentives, including allowing those employing irrigation methods to retain 50% of water savings as additional water rights, which can be either utilised on their land or traded with third-parties. Trading in water rights has become commonplace in recent years, not just for water users but for financial speculators and companies unrelated to the water industry or agribusiness. This development has encouraged farmers to make extra efforts in conserving their water supplies. Kingfisher Law can advise irrigators on the benefits and savings of more efficient water use.
Potential Benefits of Irrigation to Producers
Effective Irrigation Systems:
- Increase annual crop yields
- Increase product quality
- Lengthen the growing season
- Insure against drought
- Increase animal stocks and reduce supplementary feed due to more reliable pasture
- Exploit previously barren areas of land
- Improve potential land value
- Improve absorption and effectiveness of fertilisers
Water rights and licensing is a complex area of legislation and law and one that varies from state to state and across multiple jurisdictions. Although applications can be made by companies and individuals, it often pays dividends in the long-term if you retain the services of a specialist agribusiness firm like Kingfisher Law. We can potentially save you a great deal of time and money.
Our lawyers can advise on a range of water-related issues:
- Ground and surface water
- Delivery rights
- Water infrastructure including dams
- Water efficiency projects
- Contractual relationships
- Water pollution
- Water laws & policy