Swan Valley producers say new water licence fees will hit them hard

Stock image.
Stock image.

SWAN Valley growers say they will be hit hard in the hip pocket under plans by the State Government to recoup the cost of assessing and administering water licences.

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) said current fees to issue 13,000 water licences in WA did not reflect the true cost, which was just shy of $15 million in 2016-17.

A discussion paper said WA is the only Australian jurisdiction that does not apply any form of cost recovery for managing water resources.

“It is clear that there is a significant discrepancy between the current fee structure and the average cost of managing an application,” the paper said.

“The Government considers WA taxpayers bearing almost the full cost of providing regulatory services unsustainable and increased cost recovery from those deriving a benefit from regulatory services is considered fair.”

A Swan Valley producer, who declined to be named for fear of being targeted, said the proposed fees were too high and DWER should improve its efficiency before passing costs on to producers.

“I have no idea how it can cost so much to assess water licences and DWER need to get their house in order, do an audit and raise efficiency before passing on the cost to farmers,” he said.

The producer also urged DWER to better manage illegal water use and the Gnangara Mound, which supplies almost half of Perth’s water supplies.

“We have had declining water levels in our bores for over 30 years and it continues today,” he said.

“This costs us in higher power costs and the need for bigger and deeper pumps.

“It is becoming more common for users, particularly on hobby farms, to access water without a licence,” he said.

“This compliance issue is now out of hand and unmanaged.

“We shouldn’t be made to pay while others go free.”

Planning Minister and West Swan MLA Rita Saffioti recognised there were issues in the Swan Valley with water allocations and that some producers’ bores were saline and went dry in the summer.

She added any consideration of water cost recovery must take into account the unique situation of the Swan Valley and its significance to tourism and state heritage.

“I am writing the State Government’s response to the independent review of the Swan Valley planning framework by John Kobelke, which will address Swan Valley water matters from a planning perspective,” she said.

The Kobelke report recommended DWER undertake a compliance campaign to check for unlicensed ground water usage in the Swan Valley.

Shadow Water Minister David Honey said the proposed fees were unfair and would cost producers nearly $6,700 for each dam used for irrigation.

“A small farmer with multiple small dams will be slugged $6,700 per dam,” he said.

“A farm with six dams will be hit with a new $40,000 tax.

“The policy has been poorly developed and will unfairly impact small farmers.”

Consultation began on August 10 and will continue until November 1, 2018.

Fee changes could be introduced in early 2019.