Big firm acquiring aquifers
Concern has been raised about a big agricultural company’s plans to buy up groundwater.
Multi-million dollar agricultural investment corporation goFarm is buying up properties all over northern Victoria.
Reports say the company wants control over around half of the Katunga Deep Lead Aquifer, which is an important groundwater resource for local farmers.
There are no laws limiting how much water one company can control.
Many farmers at Katunga in the Goulburn Valley have been desperate to get out, facing skyrocketing water prices, ongoing drought and angry at the mismanagement of water resources.
This has created significant opportunities for groups like goFarm, but the locals that remain are concerned the company will secure so much water that supplies become less available to others.
Documents obtained by the media allegedly show goFarm is using its Akuna Trust to buy property with access to the Katunga aquifer, investing over $100 million in developable land with ‘below-the-ground water assets’.
Reports say the company wants to create a ‘scarcity premium’ for groundwater.
The Akuna Trust owned over 17 per cent of the Katunga deep lead aquifer and 3,000 hectares of land in February this year.
The company says it is focusing on fruit and nut crops. This includes almonds, whose popularity has expanded rapidly in recent years, but bring a significant drain on water resources.
In the past decade, farmers in the area have used only half of their groundwater allocations, but big companies like goFarm are likely to increase that use.
However, the Katunga groundwater levels have been in decline since the 1990s.
Given that some of the aquifers take thousands of years to recharge, there is concern about potentially extensive damage continuing.
Experts say rules must be created to avoid such damage, and to better inform locals.
University of Melbourne Law School water policy expert Rebecca Nelson says communities are being left in the dark.
“For a critical resource that people rely on during drought and that will become even more important in the future — a critical resource that's hidden — arguably there's need for a bit more transparency there,” she told the ABC.
“I think were the community to be involved more deeply with water management, one would hope that that would give the community confidence that the resource is being managed sustainably.”
Water authority Goulburn Murray Water, whose jurisdiction includes the Katunga aquifers, says it is “unable to release individual licence details due to commercial privacy reasons”.
The Victorian Government recently announced a review of water transparency provisions.
The government says its review will seek to ensure community and water sector confidence.
“There is a rigorous process in place for the ongoing monitoring of groundwater levels across the state to ensure we are balancing the needs of the environment, domestic and stock users, irrigated agriculture, commercial users and urban communities,” its spokesperson said.