Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Victoria: The Long Road to a Private Dam

Prelude

The bigger the Government the smaller the citizen; it’s what happens when the size of the state grows. However, may I venture to suggest that in reality, Government does not represent the totality of the problem more exactly, it is bureaucracy being sustained and promoted by Government that gives the commands, albeit indirectly and, in doing so, perpetually increases its own capacity, scope and ultimately, its power. When this happens the result erodes the individual’s ability to run their lives without state intervention or, even in situations where it may be constructive, with as little thereof. The unwelcomed result is that the benefits of entrepreneurship are compromied and liberty is mitigated.

Case in point water; it does not matter whether one calls it, “water resource management,” “water policy,” or merely “water plan,” the result is the same. As the establishment (Dep’t of Sustainability/Environment and EPA) and its satellite subsidiaries (Water Catchment Authorities) grow in size and authority, all the while aided and abetted by Green and leftist interests, power is transferred away from citizens to unelected heads of regulatory agencies and departments who will ultimately take control of a precious natural resource. Eventually, all we the people will be needed for, is to help finance what they think we truly require – the water bureaucracy.

I believe its time Victorians began reflecting on the costs of having the bureaucracy caught up in their affairs, not just the escalating cost to taxpayers, but the stifling effect it has on business and influence in terms of personal liberty and proprietary rights.

This posts purpose is to communicate in plain terms, the impact that present water policies in Victoria have, on the lives of landowners who simply wish to put a dam on their property.

The Long Road to a Dam

" ... There is no getting around the fees, as the Licensing Authority will inspect the site to assess water availability, environmental and “site specific” issues and in all instances, the Authority will refer the application to the Department of Sustainability and Environment and Local Government offices for comment. The likely implications here extend far beyond fees as landowners shrink in instances where ‘environment’ issues are cited as it opens the door to a Pandora’s Box of further bureaucratic demands ..."
How many times have we heard it, the often-used worn-out expression, “bureaucracy-gone-mad,” regrettably, as I ponder the procedures that present day landowners and farmers have to embark upon to simply place a dam on their property I am left scratching my head, and once again catch myself thinking, that very phrase.

The present process is not just difficult, it is expensive, lengthy, and causing unwarranted stress for those caught in the web of bureaucratic red tape. Applying for and meeting, all the legal requirements that affect dams in terms of licensing and registration under the Water Act (Vic), is nothing short of outrageous. Conceivably, Section 8 of the act which, last I checked, provided for an individual’s rights to water has been largely forgotten or otherwise, completely overshadowed by the crowns right of use and/or the rights of water corporations.

Whatever, the landowners being proprietors, are at the mercy of the bureaucracy. The permit process for building and registering dams provides us with a classic example of how officialdom and red tape have weighed down the system and largely assumed ownership of the water that literally falls on ones property. What's more, having a dam constructed by ‘someone else’ or, taking over ownership does not clear the landowner of operational responsibility as, “let the buyer beware” applies.

Additionally, the present description of a dam, as defined by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) makes it clear that no “water storage hole,” escapes the permit process, hence:
“…anything in which by means of excavation, a bank, a barrier, or other works water is collected, stored, or concentrated.”

The legal licensing requirements include the need for a:

  1. Take and Use Licence (also known as a Surface Water licence) for all irrigation and commercial dams
  2. Construction and Operating Licence, (also known as a Works licence) for dams that fall into certain categories and
  3. Local Government Authority Planning Permits as issued by local councils.

This may seem simple enough but in reality, it is far from that, in this post I will look at No. 1 & 3, the Take and Use Licence, and the Local Government permits.

Take and Use Licence

The Take and Use licence (section 51) is compulsory where dam water is used for irrigation and commercial purposes. Landowners will need this licence before they can get a licence to construct a new dam. In the past, if the dam was to be used for domestic and stock purposes this licence was not required however, at least one water catchment authority (Southern) has advised me that from the 1st of January, 2010 this licence is mandatory for all dams with access to a waterway.

There is more to this licence than meets the eye. In most cases, conditions are set in terms of the operation of the dam and depending on its size; landowners may be required to have an operating licence that includes conditions relating to surveillance and management issues. Judging from all available water authority FAQ’s, the operating licence is independent from the take and use and construction licenses.

Application Process

The Take and Use licence appears simple, but opens the way for a whole range of bureaucratic demands upon landowners.

For a new licence, applicants must specify the type of licence needed, for ‘Standard licenses,” the total volume level required must be estimated. Owners will also have to state a purpose for the dam with options including irrigation, dairy, stock watering, domestic, commercial, industrial supply, urban or other. If owners tick irrigation, stock watering or domestic, they must indicate the number and type of stock, irrigated area size and crop type.

As is typical, existing licence holders who simply want to make changes to their licence will have to submit a new licence application form indicating the change sought and are subject to new application fees. Options in this case include, increasing (water) entitlement, renew existing or ‘other’.

In all cases, water extraction details must be listed including type of use, annual volume, daily extraction, dam capacity, and height.

Finally, owners have to include and accurate description of the land, which clearly shows the location of the property, its boundaries, water diversion points and proposed dam.

Fees

For new licenses or increase to existing ones:

Domestic and stock $390
Other purposes to 10 (ML) $935
More than 10 (ML) and up to 200 (ML): Base application fee $2810 plus $15.50 per ML greater than 10 (ML)
E.g. For a 190ML dam: $2,810 + $15.50 x 180 = $5,600
More than 200ML: Base application fee $5,755 plus $31.00 per ML greater than 200ML
E.g. For a 750ML dam: $5,755 + $31.00 x 550 = $22,805

For Renewal/Amalgamation/Amendment or Transfer of existing licence conditions
Renewal $235
Amalgamation $390
Amalgamation with an increase to existing volume levels will mean the previously described calculations apply

More fees and 'other' charges
Transfer fees range from a minimum of $235 to $935
Water Availability Assessment Fee (for all applications except domestic and stock) $1,795
Where sensitive issues are identified, add $2,810
Advertising fees (Neighbors, Public Agencies, and Consultation)Under 20ML $1,440 and Over 20ML $1,910
Technical Information Analysis fees $775
In addition, even general information reports attract fees ranging from $100 to $865

There is no getting around the fees, as the Licensing Authority will inspect the site to assess water availability, environmental and “site specific” issues and in all instances, the Authority will refer the application to the Department of Sustainability and Environment and Local Government offices for comment. The likely implications here extend far beyond fees as landowners shrink in instances where ‘environment’ issues are cited as it opens the door to a Pandora’s Box of further bureaucratic demands. If the proposed dam is constructed on a waterway or if the waterway itself is deemed of high ecological value, landowners will need to comply with stringent environmental requirements in the construction application phase of the process. In most cases, the authority will force owners to undertake an environmental assessment report prior to construction. In terms of factors addressed, flora and fauna related issues on all FAQ notices I have read are considerable, and represent an added impediment for land owners affected.

Right from the onset, Water Catchment Authorities make it perfectly clear just how critical environmental issues are, indeed the following sentence taken directly from their websites is revealing:
“The potential high costs associated with alternative supplies of water would not be considered a sufficient reason alone to construct a dam on a watercourse of high ecological value.”
This highlights the extent to which green interests and ideologues have infiltrated the bureaucracy; hence, it’s not about people and undoubtedly not, about the business.

Local Government

If this were not enough landowners/farmers must also submit a planning permit to their local shire office detailing plans, elevation, and likely ‘effects’ of the proposed dam. Local Government application fees may vary, as a guide The Shire of Yarra Ranges charges $239 for dams valued between $10,000 and $100,000 and $490 for $100,000+.

At this stage, I am compelled to highlight that we have not even begun considering the construction and operating licence component of the application process, one that attracts a completely new set of requirements and additional application fees. This will be the subject of a future post.

Summary

To suggest that red tape and bureaucracy weigh down the permit process for dams is an understatement. Little wonder many farmers are waiting more than 12 months to get approvals.
Clearly, the Green inspired, power hungry and empire building bureaucrats within DSE have enormous influence, effectively having wrestled the decision making process from the democratically elected who are either too fainthearted, or simply dim to realize the folly of their ways. Top bureaucrats have come to realize that they can be more than mere advisors for the legislature. Make no mistake the DSE with its nearly 3000 staff and annual $ 1 billion budget pulls the strings through its emerging influence over local council decision-making. While the DSE is supposed to ensure that Victoria’s ecological systems remain, sustainable I would venture to ask, how sustainable is the DSE and its satellite network of water bodies.

I was recently disturbed however, not surprised to read of a certain elected official from my side of the political fence, who expressed dismay at the level of red tape for gaining farm dam permits while publically adding:
“… I don’t blame Southern Rural Water for any of this because they’ve got to follow the legislation.”
"Umm HELLO”, evidently this politician doesn’t get it … where the real power lies.

Further Reading and References:

Water Act (1989)
Conservation Forests and Land Act (1987) part 7, schedule 3
Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988)
Lands Act (1987)
Crown Land (Reserves) Act (1978)
Environment Protection, Biodiversity, and Conservation Act (2000)
Victoria’s native Vegetation Management - a framework for action (2002)

No comments: