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New reef regulations coming in June

24 May 21 - In the News

Author: Holding Redlich Partners Gerard TimbsKylie Wilson, and Lawyer Nicola Nearhos
Publication: Queensland Country Life
Publisher: Fairfax Media

From 1 June 2021, new cropping requirements and industrial land use activity discharge standards will be introduced to Queensland’s Reef Protection Regulations. The purpose of these new requirements is to reduce land-based sources of water pollution from agricultural and industrial sources entering the Great Barrier Reef. 

The new requirements, deferred from 1 June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, present an update to the Great Barrier Reef protection measures prescribed by Chapter 4A of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EPA) which were introduced on 1 December 2019. 

The six reef regions subject to the new requirements are Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary. You can check if your property falls within one of these reef regions here.

The Cape York region will see regulation under this scheme for the first time. Prior to the new requirements, the Reef Protection Regulations did not apply to existing producers since the area had already met its water quality targets.

Requirements for new cropping and horticulture

From 1 June 2021, new or expanding commercial cropping and horticulture activities in the above six reef regions that are located on at least five hectares of land (which does not have a cropping history) will require an environmental authority (EA) before any activities can occur.

The new requirements will apply to most types of crops, including grains, horticulture, sugarcane and banana production. Crops that are grown in a closed system (e.g. hydroponically), forestry and timber production, and non-commercial crops (e.g. where graziers grow fodder crops for their own cattle) will not be subject to the new requirements.

The EA requirements for new or expanding cropping and horticulture activities allow for the expansion of agriculture while improving water quality at the Great Barrier Reef. They will operate alongside existing minimum practice agricultural standards for sugarcane, grazing and bananas where these are prescribed by regulation.

Requirements for new, expanded or intensified industrial land use activities

Also commencing from 1 June 2021 are new discharge standards for new, expanded or intensified regulated industrial land use activities such as sewerage and water treatment plants, land-based aquaculture or mining in any of the above six reef regions.

Existing point source emitters do not need to change operations unless they expand or significantly change operations in a way that would require a new or amended EA. The Point Source Water Quality Offsets Policy (2019) guides whether environmental offsets may be used to achieve no net residual impact.

The new requirements will operate in addition to regulation under the EPA and the Great Barrier Reef Basins End-of-Basin Load Water Quality Objectives (2019).

More information

The Queensland Government is currently holding a series of information sessions on the new requirements for producers, advisers and anyone interested until 24 June 2021. You can register for these sessions here.

You may also submit a request to the Department of Environment and Science here for more information.

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