There are growing fears that a major agricultural development slated for the Northern Territory could threaten the future of Mataranka Hot Springs.
The ABC reports that the Territory Government is in the process of assessing an application to clear just over 450 hectares of land at Roper Plains Station near the iconic hot springs, which are a major drawcard for grey nomads and other tourists.
If approved, it would allow the owners of the station to use the full amount of a lucrative water licence which would have a huge knock-on effect for the springs.
The ABC reports that, since 2016, a forestry company has grown Indian sandalwood trees at the site, but last year the station was put on the market.
It says that, according to clearing application documents, the new owner wants ‘to fully utilise his existing water licence’ to grow watermelons and pumpkins.
The licence would allow 5,800 megalitres of water a year to be extracted from the aquifer – an amount equivalent to 2,300 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Des Barritt, who runs the campground next to the hot springs, told the ABC his livelihood relied on the tourists they drew in.
“If the hot springs stop, then people won’t stop here,” he said. “There’s nothing for them.”
Groundwater expert Matthew Currell, from RMIT, has been researching the aquifers that snake through the Mataranka region.
He told the ABC that 5,800 megalitres was a ‘really significant’ amount of water, and if the licence was used to its full extent it would ‘undoubtedly’ have some level of impact in the hot springs and the Roper River.
“Such a large water licence, so close to these really significant sites, is a real red flag … we have to start thinking seriously about what our priorities are,” he said. “Do we want to make sure we’re protecting these springs and these sites for future generations, or are we more interested in the economic gains that can come from agribusiness and other developments that are steadily creeping into this region?”
NT Environment Minister Lauren Moss Moss is expected to make a decision on the land clearing application in the coming weeks.
“We are, I think, well-advanced in terms of our understanding of a number of our different aquifers and our water allocation zones,” she told the ABC. “And we’ll be making decisions based on the evidence before us.”
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