Residents call for rejection of massive Roper River water licence
25 January 2022
Residents along the Roper River are calling on the Northern Territory Government to reject a 3.3 billion litre water license application which they say could have devastating impacts on the river and local community.
The licence would allow mining company Australian Ilmenite Resources to pump 3.3 gigalitres of water (1320 Olympic-sized swimming pools) from the Roper River each year for its mine located around 100km east of Mataranka. The licence would allow for a 45,000% increase in water extraction per year compared to current use.
Former resident and pastoralist from the Roper region, Daniel Tapp, said it was essential the iconic river was protected.
“More water extraction is out of bounds, particularly river extraction. For the aquifers there needs to be more completed studies to be sure we’re not over allocating those aquifers,” Mr Tapp said.
“We don’t know if there’s enough water, but still heavy water-using industries such as mining, gas, cotton and industrial agriculture are lining up to take water for profit. I'm not against industry but we have to make sure it’s sustainable development.”
Local fishers are also concerned, with resident Charlotte Close saying, “Fishing the Top End rivers is what I live for - if we can keep our rivers flowing, we can all enjoy them long into the future.”
“That’s why we need to stand up today against this pile of growing threats to the Roper.”
Environment Centre NT Co-Director Dr Kirsty Howey said the application prompted the need for an updated Environmental Impact Assessment.
“This is a huge application that would create a massive dam, filled with water from the Roper - water that is vital to sustain these healthy systems,” Ms Howey said.
“The environmental impact assessment for this mine occurred back in 2012 - two years before the original owner went into receivership.This means the local community has almost no updated information about the mine and its environmental impacts.
“There is no public accountability here. It’s time for the NT EPA to do its job and call this project, including the water licence, in for an assessment.”
“Enough is enough - people across the Territory deserve certainty about the future of their rivers. River systems like the Roper are already stretched. We need to see proper community consultation alongside up-to-date science to ensure that our rivers are protected,” she said.
Public consultation on the licence is open until February 21.
Naish Gawen | Environment Centre NT | 0439 231 122 | [email protected]
Jasmine Burke | NT Outback | 0437 822 035 | [email protected]
Australian Ilmenite Resources (AIR) was given NT Environmental Protection Agency approval to begin mining in 2012, but delayed commencing its operations and went into care and maintenance in 2014. In 2018, AIR submitted a notice of intention to expand its operations, referring its plans to construct the Highway Dam to the NTEPA. The NT EPA deemed that the impacts of the project were not significant enough to warrant an environmental impact assessment.
In 2018 AIR took local Native Title holders to court over their refusal to provide access to the Roper River for the construction of a pipeline.
In 2022, due to “expanded operations” AIR advertised for positions such as serviceperson, electrician, boilermaker, and installer on their Facebook page.
The Roper River is the second largest river in the Northern Territory, with its headwaters extending northwards into Arnhem Land and south into the drier expanse of the Beetaloo Basin.