23 October, 2013

Water Quality Offsets

Queensland Urban Utilities is seeking to have its Environmental Protection Act licence for the Beaudesert STP varied to increase its annual nitrogen discharge limit by 7 tonnes per year.

The national Coastal Catchments Initiative by the Australian and Queensland Governments may enable nutrient trading options between sources in Moreton Bay catchments to obtain water quality targets cost-effectively. 

Queensland Urban Utilities has commenced a water quality offsets program help reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients entering one of South East Queensland’s most impacted rivers.

I am wondering if the same logic and economics could be used to separate sources of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium at their source of generation through urine separation toilet technologies.

A report in November 2007, proposed a methodology for developing environmental equivalency for water quality offsets through an application in the Logan/Albert River catchments.

Queensland Urban Utilities is spending ~$1 million in a pilot water quality offsets scheme to repair approximately 500 metres of severely eroded riparian corridor near the Beaudesert Sewage Treatment Plant in the Logan River catchment.  This ‘green infrastructure’ project was chosen over a traditional sewage treatment plant upgrade which would have cost $8.0m and focused only on reducing nitrogen emissions.Other benefits for the Logan River will include reduced local turbidity, reduced total phosphorus mass load transfer and establishment of permanent native vegetation to improve biodiversity.  
Healthy Waterways, through its ongoing Report Card, will monitor the improvements in waterway health resulting from this vital program as Queensland Urban Utilities manage the amount of sediment and nutrients entering the Logan River.
The  Healthy Waterways 2013 Ecosystem Health Report Card provides an insight into the health of South East Queensland’s waterways and Moreton Bay.

The 2013 Report Card results show the mud and nutrients deposited into Moreton Bay during the 2011 and 2013 floods continues to reduce water clarity and stimulate the growth of algae.

There was a slight overall decline in Moreton Bay (B- to C), with Central Bay (A- to C+) showing the greatest decline. Last year, the health of seagrass beds and corals appeared to improve slightly. However, this year corals and seagrasses are showing signs of ongoing stress and decline due to the large amount of mud and nutrients deposited into Moreton Bay during the 2011 and 2013 floods.

On a positive note, most of Moreton Bay showed an improvement in the sewage indicator, which led to improvements in Broadwater (C- to B-) and Pumicestone Passage (C- to C+).

18 October, 2013

Great Barrier Reef & the Ports Plan

Draft Ports Plan

Many of Qld’s major trading ports are near or adjacent to important environmental values including the Great Barrier Reef.

The Qld Government is attempting to address the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) concerns.

UNESCO raised concerns about the level of development along the Qld coast and its impact on the World Heritage site, including water quality and the loss of coral.

UNESCO recommends that the Australian and Qld Governments restrict port development outside the long-established major port areas within or adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Qld Government’s response includes:

The aim of the draft Qld Ports Strategy is managing and improving the efficiency and environmental management of the state’s port network over the next decade.

The strategic objectives of the draft Qld Ports Strategy include:
  •     providing certainty and direction for future port planning,
  •     supporting environmental protection, in particular for the Great Barrier Reef,
  •     supporting improvements in the management and productivity of ports and the ports network,
  •     enhancing supply chain connections,
facilitating the strategic use of ports.

The key actions are:
  • ·     establishment of Priority Port Development Areas (PPDAs),
  • ·     prohibition of capital dredging for the development of deep water port facilities outside of PPDAs (for ten years),
  • ·     guidance for leading practice master planning for Qld ports.

Along Qld’s 6,973 km coastline, there are 20 ports including 15 trading ports, two community ports, and three gazetted non-trading ports. The PPDAs are proposed for the ports of Brisbane, Mackay/Hay Point (two separate zones), Gladstone, Townsville and Abbot Point.

The Qld Government proposes legislation to be in place by next year to deliver on these commitments. Ports would have to prepare master plans and outline how they will meet Qld and federal environment assessment standards.
The Qld Ports Strategy attempts to align with the National Ports Strategy and relevant international, national, state and local legislation and policy for the responsible and efficient operation of ports. Alignment with the National Ports Strategy is of particular importance as it is designed to improve port and freight infrastructure productivity and attract greater private sector investment. The National Ports Strategy calls for integrated plans across ports.

The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) used to provide an overarching mechanism for protecting the World Heritage values from inappropriate development, including actions taken inside or outside which could impact on its heritage values.  The Federal Government is in the process of handing over these responsibilities to the State Governments.

Development proposals were required to undergo rigorous environmental impact assessment processes, often including public consultation, after which the Federal Minister may decide, to approve, reject or approve under conditions designed to mitigate any significant impacts.  This may be replaced by a one-stop-shop for Environmental approvals at State level.

A recent amendment to the EPBC Act did make the GBR Marine Park an additional 'trigger' for a matter of National Environmental Significance which provided additional protection for the values within the GBR.

Coal is still the predominant commodity export representing 63 per cent of volumes followed by bauxite at 15 per cent and petroleum products 6 per cent.
The remaining 16 per cent is shared by metals and minerals, general cargo, agriculture and other products.

The draft Qld Ports Strategy has been informed by the results of consultation on the draft Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy

The main themes of public consultation on the Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy included:
  • ·       support for the concentration of development to within existing port limits
  • ·       recognition of the important role of ports in facilitating the growth of economies
  • ·       concern for the Great Barrier Reef and threatened species
  • ·       support for improving port planning and master planning
  • ·       support for strengthening protection of land and corridors near ports
  • ·       support for improving environmental management consistently across ports
  • ·       support for strategic alignment in planning activities across jurisdictions, particularly with the National    Ports Strategy.

These key themes and issues raised during the consultation process on the draft Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy are outlined in the Great Barrier Reef Ports Strategy - Summary of Consultation Responses Report.

The draft Qld Ports Strategy will be open for public comment until 13 December 2013. For more information and to complete an online survey to have your say visit: www.dsdip.qld.gov.au/qps

16 October, 2013

One stop shop for Environmental Approvals

Environment Ministers sign a Draft MOU

The Queensland and Federal Governments have signed a Draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) giving the state more powers to conduct environmental assessments and approvals for major projects.

In March 2013, a senate committee (under the former Labor Government) confirmed the Federal Department of Environment was backing away from handing over responsibilities for biodiversity approvals to the States.

The Draft MOU (which has not been publically released) addresses ''the key principles of maintaining environmental standards, streamlining processes, the removal of duplication and the offer of federal staff to be embedded with the state if required''.

The Draft MOU is being review by Prime Minister Tony Abbott for approval and the changes will need to be passed through Federal Parliament and the Senate. The aim is to achieve a one-stop shop to reduce red tape and provide certainty to business while maintaining the rigorous federal environmental standards.

This would include:

·           Creation of a single approvals process for environmental assessment and approvals under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act via the state system, as part of long-term agreements with each state and territory.
·           Development of the ability and incentive for local government to be part of the one-stop-shop single assessment process.
·           Creation of a single lodgement and documentation process. The single documentation and assessment process could also be expanded to make a single entry point and one-stop-shop for all government approvals across portfolios.

State Environment Minister Andrew Powell says there will be less duplication and quicker decisions - but Commonwealth oversight will not disappear.

Some of the things proposed include embedding Commonwealth officers into the Qld Co-ordinator General's Department.

Approval Processes for Coal and Mineral Exploration

There have been recent changes to the approvals process for coal and mineral exploration allowing for earlier engagement and faster approvals.

Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps said the new process had the potential to halve the time taken for companies to be granted exploration permits, while maintaining rigorous environmental, native title and land access assessments.

Mining companies no longer need to wait until an exploration permit is granted before engaging with landholders about their proposed exploration activities.

Exploration activities still cannot begin in an area prior to a permit being granted.

Applications to explore will still be subject to the same stringent assessment process to ensure they meet strict environmental, technical and commercial viability, community interest, native title and land access requirements.

A granted exploration permit is not a right to mine, and the Queensland Resources Council estimates that approximately only one in every 200 granted exploration permits ever goes on to become a mine.

Under the new process:
·       companies will now be formally advised within 90 days of lodgement whether their proposed exploration works program for a project has been approved or rejected.
·       For successful applications not subject to native title, once a work program has been approved and an environmental authority has been issued, a permit can be granted after annual rent has been paid.
·       For applications subject to native title, it means companies can start required native title processes and engage landholders about conduct and compensation arrangements a lot sooner.
·       These permit applications can then be finalised within 30 days of the native title process being concluded.

More information about exploration in Qld is available at www.dnrm.qld.gov.au or at www.mines.industry.qld.gov.au

Fees for Petroleum and Gas

In another example of the Qld Government’s approach to regulation and fees: The Qld Government will amend the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Regulation 2004.

Key changes include:
·       Replacement of the requirement for industry to report quarterly with a new annual reporting requirement
·       A capping mechanism for upstream operators to ensure revenue collected from some fee categories is not in excess of the calculated costs to conduct compliance activities
·       Amending the Category 10 fee to three-tiers and applied based on the size of the LPG delivery network. Small and medium sized operators will have a flat fee relative to their size and larger operators will remain at a fee per unit basis with a maximum charge retained
·       Abolition of the Category 9 fee category for the LPG delivery network
·       Removal of the fee for biogas users and exemptions for some biogas producers

01 October, 2013

Maintenance of water infrastructure assets

  Invitation to make a submission to an inquiry into the Queensland Audit Office Report to Parliament 14 for 2012-13: Maintenance of water infrastructure assets
The State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee is inquiring into the Queensland Audit Office Report to Parliament 14 for 2012-13: Maintenance of water infrastructure assets and will report to Parliament on its findings.
The committee invites you to make a submission having regard to the inquiry terms of reference. The terms of reference for the inquiry are:
·         examine the issues contained in the Queensland Audit Office Report to Parliament 14 for 2012-13: Maintenance of water infrastructure assets
·         consider the value for money of manufactured water infrastructure assets
·         operating and maintenance costs of manufactured water infrastructure assets
·         innovative strategies to increase revenue from manufactured water infrastructure assets
·         the future public value of the assets including consideration of the impact on the community, economy and environment
·         consider the policy framework for decisions to invest in significant bulk water supply infrastructure, or to upgrade current infrastructure.
Submissions close at 5.00pm on Friday, 25 October 2013.