Lakeland farmers have been told they no longer own the water after rainfall hits the ground on their properties.
Desperate for irrigation water to keep their banana crops alive the State Government delivered a mortal blow preventing farmers from building any more dams over 50 megalitres capacity without applying for an expensive licence.
Mareeba-based Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy officer Patrick Huber broke the devastating news at a meeting of Lakeland farmers recently.
Mr Huber stressed that water caught in domestic rainwater tanks was safe from government hands but any other water belonged to the State.
Releasing the Draft Water Plan for Cape York Peninsula he said overland flow had to be protected and the department would soon require land owners with existing dams, large or small, to supply dam measurements and capacities to the department.
Within 12 months of receiving the information the DNR would then issue a licence for the water and install meters on all private dams to get an idea of water usage.
When questioned if the reason for water meters was to charge landowners for their own water, Mr Huber said there was no mention of this in the draft plan.
It was pointed out that other Labor states began charging farmers fees for private water storages more than a decade ago but DNR staff denied this was their intention.
The Draft Plan allowed for total usage of only 2.5 per cent of the entire water availability on Cape York, which did not impress the meeting.
In the Normanby Basin which includes Lakeland, “the Draft Bill allows 2000 ml for general use but has allocated 16,000 ml to indigenous groups because they are the largest landowners under the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act,” Mr Huber said.
“If farmers require more water allocation they can buy it from various indigenous bodies at commercial water trading prices.”
The Plan allows for a total of 516,350 ml of unallocated water across Cape York.
Lakeland stud cattle breeder Bill Reddie questioned why no more dams could be built saying he had lived at Lakeland since the 1980’s.
“There is more water going down our gullies than 30 years ago which could be caught,” Mr Reddie commented.
Weipa grazier Mr John Witherspoon said he was angry the DNR had not provided any allocation in the Watson catchment or allowed more water for farm usage across the Cape.
“The State Government is right out of touch with the Peninsula and we should be demonstrating against them over taking away our water rights and charging so much just to apply for a licence with no guarantee of getting it,” Mr Witherspoon said.
In attendance at the meeting was Katters Australian Party candidate for Leichardt Dan McCarthy who questioned the reason for restricting land owners access to the vast amount of fresh water on Cape York thus preventing any further agricultural development.
“I am very concerned about the overarching policy of only allowing 2.5 per cent of water that falls on Cape York for farming,” Mr McCarthy said.
“The government needs to make up their minds. They are restricting access to a mere 2.5 per cent of rainfall that falls from the sky claiming any more would be detrimental to the environment, yet on the other hand they squeal like a stuck pig that runoff is killing the reef.
“We are blessed with abundant water during the wet season and we should be encouraging land owners to capture more water rather than the State Government persecuting them for using a natural resource.
“It’s disgraceful situation that legislation is leading towards farmers having to install meters on their own dams on their own properties which will lead to them having to pay for their own water..
“We are constantly told that runoff is killing the barrier reef but farmers want to capture water runoff.
“KAP policy is that farmers own any water that falls on their property so how is it they can eventually charge farmers for their own water? – contributed