The draft Cape York water plan must be revamped to encourage more agricultural development balanced with the protection of the unique environmental and cultural values of the region, AgForce said.
AgForce water spokesman Kim Bremner said there was enormous potential for new irrigated agriculture developments for the people of the Cape and to grow the northern cattle industry with the right access to water.
“AgForce supports the water planning process and the use of objective, scientific information to guide decisions about water availability, and we urge the Queensland Government to ensure the final Cape York water plan delivers sufficient secure access to water to sustain and grow agriculture,” he said.
“In our view, the draft plan is overly conservative in preserving surface flows for environmental purposes, leaving just 2.5 per cent for existing water users and future economic development across the 15 Cape York catchments.
“The precautionary approach taken by the Queensland Government contrasts significantly from the assessment of our national science agency, CSIRO, of the neighbouring Mitchell catchment, which indicated no or negligible environmental impacts from harvesting between five and 18.5 per cent of end-of-system water flows.
“The CSIRO’s Mitchell catchment assessment delivers evidence to support future agricultural development in the north, and drives home the importance of ensuring protections for environmental outcomes are not unnecessarily overengineered to the detriment of sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Cape York.
“It’s time the Queensland Government started adopting policies and plans that recognized the ability of agriculture to sustain regional communities, particularly in the north of the state.”
Mr Bremner said the water plan would set the agenda for the next 10 years so it was important to get it right now.
“If one of the main reasons such a conservative, precautionary approach has been taken in the draft plan is because of a lack of scientific information, then the State Government should provide more resources to the QLD Department of Natural Resources to develop this information,” he said.
“The draft plan sets aside just 6050 megalitres in a general reserve from which irrigation water is directly available to non-indigenous residents, equivalent to only about 500 hectares of new development, yet the Cape York Peninsula spans almost 300,000 square kilometres.
“It’s vitally important that the Queensland Government revise its approach in the final water plan to ensure more economic development can occur to benefit the people of Cape York while still maintaining the environmental and cultural values that makes this area such a special place.”