The extraction and use of groundwater resources in Victoria is controlled by legislation enacted by the State Government, (the Water Act (1989). The use of geothermal and mineral waters for commercial bathing and drinking purposes falls under this legislation. Recently enacted geothermal legislation, the Geothermal Resources Act (2005), is aimed at encouraging major energy investment projects (it does not apply to projects where the temperature is less than 70°C or the depth of drilling (extraction) is less than one kilometre below the earth’s surface). It therefore does not apply to most tourism ventures.
The licensing and administration of the groundwater resources is the responsibility of Victoria’s four Rural Water Authorities (RWA); Goulburn Murray Water, Southern Rural Water, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water and Lower Murray Water. To assist in the administration of groundwater licenses, the RWAs have defined a number of Groundwater Management Areas (GMA). Each GMA has a prescribed Permissible Consumptive Volume (PCV) which is considered to represent the sustainable yield of the aquifer. License applications are considered in light of the PCV and current levels of allocation to assess whether a new license application can be sustained by the aquifer. In GMA where the demand for groundwater is substantial in comparison to the PCV, a Water Supply Protection Area can be declared by the Minister and a Water Management Plan prepared to help manage the resource.
If the proposed development falls within an existing GMA then a new groundwater extraction license will be issued on the provision that the allocation remains within the prescribed PCV. In some locations groundwater resources are already fully allocated and water entitlements may need to be traded or reallocated from existing license holders (if allowable). The current status of the various GMA (i.e. current levels of allocation in relation to the PCV) can be obtained from the Department of Sustainability and Environment website.
Natural mineral water resources are an exception to these arrangements. These reserves are separately managed by the Victorian Mineral Water Committee (VMWC). The VMWC was formed in 1992 to advise and support the development of the State’s mineral spring reserves, and to encourage the commercial development of natural mineral water and the therapeutic use of mineral water. The VMWC is currently funded by the Victorian Government and a mineral water levy is collected.
Bore construction and groundwater extraction license
Obtaining the relevant permits and approvals from government authorities is a key step. The following section will provide a description of the general processes required to obtain planning approval and a bore construction license.
1. Prepare and Submit the Bore Construction Licence (BCL) Application: The applicant must contact the relevant RWA, complete the BCL application form and pay an application fee. This application will include details of the proposed bore design and depth, bore use, location and the estimated annual extraction volume in mega litres (ML) and proposed extraction rates (ML/day).
2. RWA Review: The RWA will consider the application in the context of existing GMA and their PCV and may request a hydrogeological assessment to investigate the potential impacts of the proposed extraction on neighbouring groundwater users, surface water features and nearby GMA.
3. Application Advertised: If required the application may be advertised in order to notify adjacent property owners via public notices (e.g. newspaper). People affected may object. The application may also be referred to other relevant authorities including the Department of Sustainability and Environment, the GMA and local governments, etc.
4. RWA Assesses and Determines Application: The RWA will consider objections and can conduct a community meeting, if needed. The authority will also consider any comments from the referral agencies and, if necessary, negotiate any aspects of the application further with the applicant. Following the process the RWA will make a decision to issue or reject the license application. If accepted there will be a number of conditions which the applicant must adhere to (i.e. metering, pumping periods, etc). Appeals are dealt with by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
5. Review by VCAT (if necessary): Challenges from the applicant or third parties to the RWA decision in relation to the license and its conditions are made through an appeal to VCAT that must be made within 28 days of the date of determination. If no appeals are made within the 28 days period, the RWA will issue the: • Bore construction license (to drill the bore), and; • Groundwater extraction license (issued following the receipt of a hydrogeological assessment based on the results of drilling and testing of the bore). The extraction volume may be modified at this stage depending on the actual yields of the completed bore recorded by the driller or from a pumping test.
A range of fees and charges apply for groundwater licenses and ongoing water use.
Application Fees: Each RWA has a different cost structure and the proponent should confirm these fees at the time of application. Costs can vary according to the location of the bore, and nature of the site. As an example, based on the Southern Rural Water 2005/06 fee structure, an application for a 400 ML bore would cost in the order of $6,000 (this assumes a hydrogeological assessment report and advertising is required). This does not include other costs such as fees for consultants to prepare a hydrogeological assessment report that will be required for a license application.
Annual Water Charge: Charges vary between each of the RWA. As an example, Southern Rural Water has an annual fee of $200 per bore license and annual charge of $2.25 per ML of licensed volume.
Mineral Water Surcharge:A natural mineral water surcharge applies for commercial use of natural mineral water, the mineral water levy is currently 1.5c per litre, i.e. $15,000 per ML.
Groundwater Trading: Groundwater trading is a relatively new concept and is determined by market demand, location, and whether the transfer is temporary or permanent. As a guide, purchase costs can vary from $200 to $1,000 per ML.
Above ground consent
Planning approval for development: A development will require planning approval from the relevant local government authority. The following section provides general information on the planning process to gain approvals for a spa development.