Politics

“A Massive Double Standard”: Adani Got A Sweet Deal On Access To Billions Of Litres Of Water

Adani's application was approved while farmers' were denied.

It turns out Adani got a pretty special deal when it applied for access to river water in Queensland — the mining giant is planning to take almost as much water from Queensland’s Suttor River than all other water users combined, including farmers struggling in the drought, and it’s close to getting its way.

New documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws by environmental activist group Lock The Gate, reveal what activists have called “a massive double standard” in how the government treats applications to access water. The documents, which Junkee has sighted, reveal that Adani was granted a licence by the Queensland Government allowing it to use 12.5 billion litres of river water each year, while all other current water users combined hold entitlements adding up to 15.4 billion litres per annum.

The documents also reveal that Adani was granted water licences despite objections from landholders in the area, and environmental analysis undertaken by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines which identified that Adani’s proposed water use would cause threats to lagoons and endangered ecosystems.

At least one irrigator in the area was recently refused a licence to take a smaller amount of water from the river, according to the documents, and activists say this raises questions about whether the mining giant is receiving special treatment.

“It’s clear there’s been a massive double standard at play between mining and agriculture, with right to information documents revealing in the past irrigators have been refused licences for less water than those granted to Adani,” said Carmel Flint, spokesperson for Lock the Gate Alliance.

“Adani now has rights to almost as much Suttor River water as all other water users combined. It is incredibly galling to see Adani get special access to river water for its dirty coal mine as Queensland grapples with a severe drought.”

So Wait, Is Adani’s Mega Water Licence Already Approved And Ready To Go?

Adani already has the rights to all the Suttor river water it’s requesting — its application for a water licence to draw up to 12.5 billion litres of water from the river each year was granted by the Queensland government in 2017. In order to actually pump that water to its coal mine, the company also needs approval for a related pipeline project which is currently before the federal government for consideration.

The federal government, however, has already made the process pretty easy for Adani by deciding last week that there was no need for a full independent environmental impact statement on this project because the water Adani is requesting will not be used to extract coal, just to wash it. Yes, seriously. Instead, the federal government’s decision will just be based on “preliminary documentation”.

That’s a worry because the documents obtained by Lock The Gate today reveal that the environmental analysis Adani submitted to support its application was a bit shoddy, only taking into account data from 1809-2004. That ignores the past 14 years of rainfall and water usage data, and also fails to take into account the impact climate change will have on the area, which is a big oversight given that Adani plans to run its mine until 2077.

And whether or not the federal government approves this licence, it’s worth noting that Adani already holds other water licences in the area, including a licence granted in 2017 allowing the company to extract unlimited groundwater for 60 years. At the time, the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office warned this decision would have irreversible environmental consequences — and yeah, no shit, because groundwater itself is not unlimited.

All parts of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project have received serious opposition from the public — and it’s not just environmental activists. Yesterday, polling conducted by ReachTel for Lock The Gate revealed that 70 per cent of Queenslanders think Adani’s water licences in Queensland should be revoked in order to safeguard water for farmers struggling in the drought.

As Carmel Flint from Lock The Gate put it, Adani receiving access to this much water in the area is “a slap in the face to rural communities and a real threat to the environment”.

“These documents underscore again just how wrong the decision was last week by the Federal Environment Minister to approve Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme to take Suttor river water and pipe it to their mine, without environmental assessment,” she said.

In a statement released this afternoon, Adani wrote that it went through a two year assessment process to receive its water licences from the Queensland Government and that it was “required to submit extensive information including comprehensive scientific and environmental assessments”.

The company also wrote that its allocation of water represents less than one per cent of annual water flow available in the river system in question. “In the same way people often have rainwater tanks for their homes, which collect water when it rains, we would only take up to 12.5GL from the Suttor River when it floods, and only after others first take their share.”

“Furthermore, we pay for this water, at the same rate as other industrial water users”.

Adani did not respond to Junkee’s additional questions, including questions about why its environmental analysis on the project only covered the period from 1809-2004. We’ll update this post if they get back to us.


Feature image via Takver on Flickr.