New hydrogeologists to meet rising bore demand

Flood of demand for bores leads to urgent planning staff boost

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Farmer Ed Colless tests his bore water supply near Walgett. Applications for new bores in NSW rose by a third in one month. Photo by Alex Ellinghausen.

Farmer Ed Colless tests his bore water supply near Walgett. Applications for new bores in NSW rose by a third in one month. Photo by Alex Ellinghausen.

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Little or none left on top, so farms seek water down under

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There's a flood in NSW and it has nothing to do with rain. Instead, it's a flood of applications by farms and intensive industries to put in bores as the drought continues to bite.

To help facilitate the large number of applications for high-end groundwater use, the NSW Government has responded by employing nine extra hydrogeologists.

Applications for new bores went up by almost a third in one month, usually high-use bores in difficult geological or technical areas.

The Department of Water says not all bore applications require hydro-geological assessment, and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment that it passes the applications on to, usually only reviews the complex applications that require technical analysis.

It said for those that do require assessment, there are currently 262 new bore (includes permanent trade) and temp trade applications on the table.

"The customer facing agencies (WaterNSW and NRAR) will have also received applications that do not require assessment and are determined without being referred for assessment," a spokesperson said.

"It is the applications that are referred for assessment that will benefit from the additional resources that should lead to reduced assessment times."

Figures obtained by The Land show there are about 300 applications currently awaiting hydrometric assessment.

There has been a steady rise in applications over the last year - doubling for one particular month. Monthly approvals were: Oct 2017 - 259, Oct 2018 - 224, Oct 2019 - 523.

Total annual applications were in 2017 - 2138, 2018 - 3501, and for the 10 months of 2019 - 3693.

Minister for Water, Housing and Property, Melinda Pavey said the nine new recruits would boost numbers in the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's water division, where 24 hydrogeologists have been "inundated" with requests for groundwater assessments to help finalise bore applications.

"This drought continues to bite, and as we head into what is predicted to be a hotter and drier than average summer, we are seeing increased demand for access to groundwater throughout regional NSW," Mrs Pavey said.

"In September alone, we saw a 33 percent increase in applications for new bores compared to August, showing just how hard this drought is hitting regional communities.

"The Government is doing everything it can to expedite the groundwater assessment process, and to do that we need expert resources on the ground. While our first priority is securing town water, then assessing any basic landholder right bores for stock and domestic use, we are committed to ensuring all bore applications are managed quickly and fairly."

The Government said hydrogeological assessment was required for some stock and domestic bores followed by temporary groundwater trades, permanent trades, new bores or those seeking a review of extraction limits on existing approvals.

"Hydrogeologists assess the impact of drawing water from an aquifer on nearby water users and the environment," Mrs Pavey said.

New bore applications are lodged through WaterNSW then referred to DPIE for technical assessment.

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