Water management is of vital importance to the health of our rivers and to the whole community, including landowners, farmers, fishing enthusiasts… anyone who drinks water, for that matter!
Water management in Tasmania, including extraction, storage and use, is regulated primarily by the Water Resources Division of DPIPWE, however several other agencies have key roles:
- The Tasmanian EPA plays a major role because it is generally responsible for environmental protection, including water pollution
- The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for regulating the quality of drinking water
- Irrigation Tasmania manages government-owned water irrigation schemes and major projects, such as Meander Dam
- The Tasmanian Planning Commission reviews Water Management Plans
- TasWater, a corporation owned by Tasmania’s councils, is responsible for water and sewage services in urban areas
- Local councils have responsibility for stormwater and local water quality issues
Each of these agencies must have regard to the State Policy on Water Quality Management in exercising their responsibilities. This policy outlines water quality values and requires discharges which may compromise those values to be minimised and managed.
There are a range of opportunities to have your say about how Tasmania’s water resources are managed:
- Comment on draft or amended policies that are available for public comment
- Comment on draft Water Management Plans
- Object to an application for a water licence
- Object to an application for a dam permit
- Make a submission in respect of development that may impact on the values of a Ramsar wetland
- Report a water pollution incident
- Notify your local council about local issues, such as stormwater or discharges that impact on water quality
- Appeal against decisions relating to dam permit,
- Apply for civil enforcement orders against under planning law, pollution laws, or water laws
Scroll down for more information about these opportunities.
Responding to government proposals
WATER MANAGEMENT PLANS
Under the Water Management Act 1999, Water Management Plans are to be developed for each catchment in Tasmania. Water Management Plans are important for sustainable use of water resources and maintenance of minimum environmental flows to support aquatic ecosystems.
Stakeholders, including commercial water users, marine farmers, council officers, farmers and local Waterwatch groups, will be consulted in the development of water management plans. A draft water management plan must also be made available for public comment for at least 60 days. Keep an eye out for public notices advertising the draft management plan.
The Draft Water Management Plans, and any submissions made in relation to the draft plan, are reviewed by the Tasmanian Planning Commission. The Commission may hold a hearing and invite people who made submissions to appear, but is not required to do this.
The Commission prepares a report to the Minister making recommendations about whether to approve the draft water management plan as advertised or subject to amendments, or to refuse to approve the plan. The Minister must consider the report before deciding whether to declare a water management plan.
Responding to applications
Subject to some minor exemptions for domestic supply, watering stock and firefighting purposes, a water licence is required to take water from a watercourse (even for large scale users like Hydro Tasmania). Water licences set out the location from which water can be taken, the allocated quantity of water and any restrictions on the time of year when the water can be extracted. Each water allocation is assigned a “surety” level which indicates the priority to be given to the allocation in times of reduced water availability (e.g. drought conditions) – domestic drinking water is Surety 1, while irrigation and winter storage is a lower priority Surety 6.
Applications for water licences are advertised. Any person “who may be affected” by the application can make a written submission within 14 days.
Subject to a few exemptions, a permit is required before undertaking dam works. Dam Permits fall within two categories:
- Division 3 permits – higher risk dams
- Division 4 permits – lower risk dams – applicants must notify the Minister, but a permit is deemed to be granted provided the dam will be constructed and operated in accordance with the Division 4 Permit Dam Works Code 2015.
Click here for information about the criteria for determining whether a dam is a Division 3 or Division 4 dam. If you believe that a dam in your area has been mis-classified, contact DPIPWE to discuss.
For Division 3 permits, the applicant must make an application to the Minister. Notice of the application will be published in the newspaper and given to all adjoining property owners within 100m of the inundation area (and others, if the Minister determines that they may be impacted by the dam).
Any person “who may be affected” by the dam may make a representation to the Minister within 14 days of the public notice. Click here for tips on preparing a representation.
The Minister will consider all representations and determine whether to grant a permit. Dams must comply with the Works Code and the Code for Vegetation Clearing, as well as various statutory safety requirements. The EPA may also “call in” the proposal for assessment if the environmental impacts of the dam are likely to be significant – if called in, the proposal will be assessed as a Level 2 activity (see “Pollution and Environmental Harm” for details about Level 2 assessments).
The applicant and any person whose interests are affected may appeal to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal against the Minister’s decision. See “Challenging Decisions” for more information.
Click here for an overview of the Division 3 dam permit assessment process.
Where any water proposal, including dams and irrigation projects, is likely to have a significant impact on a Ramsar Wetland, the proposal will need to be referred to the Commonwealth Minister for assessment. If you believe that a proposal will have a significant impact on a Ramsar wetland but has not been referred, you can write to the Minister and request that s/he require the proponent to refer the proposal.
If the matter is referred, the public will be given the following opportunities to comment:
- whether an action referred to the Minister is a “controlled” action that requires assessment by the Commonwealth Minister – 10 business days. This is also a chance to comment on what level of assessment is appropriate (ranging from preliminary documentation to a full environmental impact statement or public inquiry). Click here for a guide to commenting on referrals.
⊗ The Minister can reject a proposal without further assessment if she or he is satisfied that the project would be “clearly unacceptable”. Click here for a sample letter asking that the Minister determine that a project is clearly unacceptable.
- if approval is required, comments on the assessment documentation – 10 business days
Check the public notices on the Department of Environment website for updates on invitations to comment. For more information about assessments under the EPBC Act, click here.
Monitoring and reporting
It is an offence to take water from a watercourse or declared tidal area without a licence or in a way that does not comply with the conditions of a water licence. It is also an offence to take water where doing so leads to material or serious environmental harm.
A compliance audit undertaken by DPIPWE in 2013 found that most licence holders respect conditions regarding licensed amount of water, daily take limits, period in which water can be taken and the location from which it can be taken. The audit also found that in catchments or seasons when there appears to be adequate water, licence holders saw little motivation to be compliant, and certainly no motivation to record data that would demonstrate compliance with licence conditions.
If you believe that water is being taken unlawfully from a watercourse, or in a way that causes environmental harm, you should report your concerns to the Water Resources Division. A range of enforcement options exists, including:
- Water Infringement Notice imposing a fine and demerit points
- Ministerial direction to rectify damage to an ecosystem caused by excess water extraction
- Suspension of cancellation of a water licence (a licence may also be suspended if the licence holder is convicted of an offence under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 – see “Pollution and Environmental Harm” for more information).
For other concerns, you should contact:
- For stormwater overflows, local council
- For water pollution, the EPA
- Faulty wastewater treatment facilities – TasWater
- Water quality issues in recreational water areas – local council
- Ongoing water quality issues – Director of Public Health (see “Pollution and Environmental Harm” for information about water quality)
CHALLENGING DECISIONS, ENFORCING THE LAWS
An “interested person” may take the following action in response to a decision to issue a water licence or a dam permit.
- Apply to the Minister for a review of the decision
Write to the Minister within 14 days of the decision to request a review. Your request should clearly set out why you believe the original decision was incorrect.
- Appeal to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal
Appeals must be lodged within 14 days of the decision that you would like to challenge. Appeals against dam permits cannot be made on grounds challenging the scientific or economic evidence presented to support the proposal. Appeals are limited to procedural issues. Click here to see a sample Water Management Act notice of appeal
- Apply to the Supreme Court for judicial review
Applications for judicial review must be made within 28 days of the date of the decision you would like to challenge).
For more information about how to exercise these review rights, see “Challenging Decisions“.
A State agency, local council, person directly affected by a water issue or any other person with the consent of the Tribunal can apply to the Tribunal for orders requiring an person who is breaching the Water Management Act 1999 to stop an activity and take measures to remediate any damage caused.
These actions are called “civil enforcement”. For more information about civil enforcement, click here.
⊗ Strict time limits exist for commencing civil enforcement actions relating to water offences – applications for orders must be made within 2 years of the alleged harm occurring (unless a longer period is approved by the Tribunal).