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Speech: Eyre Peninsula Water Supply

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise today to speak on behalf of the Greens in support of this select committee, which will look into Eyre Peninsula water supply. As the driest state in the driest inhabited continent, South Australia has the imperative to lead on water innovation, security and resilience. We must ensure that water resource management in South Australia ensures access to potable drinking water as a fundamental human right.

Recent analysis of the state of Eyre Peninsula's underground water sources has confirmed the urgency required to secure the region's future water security. Despite several years of La Niña weather patterns, meaning heavy rainfall and cooler than average weather, there has not been sufficient aquifer recharge to see recovering water levels.

The Uley South Basin, which supplies the majority of water used across Eyre Peninsula— including homes as well as agriculture and mining industries—recorded water levels below or very much below average in almost half of its wells during the past 12 months. This trend has been observed in other groundwater resources across the region, including the Robinson Lens near Streaky Bay, the Polda Lens and the Bramfield Lens near Elliston, and the Lincoln Basin and Uley Wanilla Lens.

Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board general manager, Jonathan Clark, has expressed his concerns with current reports:

An alternative water source is urgently needed for the Eyre Peninsula. Time is fast running out and we cannot continue to spend more years deliberating the merits of a range of solutions. Decisive action is required now, before we lose this critical resource forever.

Amid growing concerns that the region could run out of drinking water, SA Water first identified three sites in the Sleaford Bay area for a desalination plant for the Eyre Peninsula back in 2009. A site selection committee, set up by the previous Liberal government, recommended a Sleaford Bay site 25 kilometres south of Port Lincoln. However, ultimately, when the Billy Lights Point site was announced, it sparked community protest with unanimous opposition from the community, and council defied the recommendation of the 22-member committee. Multiple local government bodies have also rejected Billy Lights Point as a location for a desalination plant. None oppose a desal plant for Eyre Peninsula region per se. It is recognised as crucial to ensuring its water supply, but the location and SA Water's process do not pass the 'do no harm' principle.

In late 2023, the Greens also received a letter from the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation regarding opposition to the location of Billy Lights Point. Their concern stems from the 'insurmountable ecological and heritage issues' they identify. In correspondence with the Barngala corporation, they have said that the site at Billy Lights Point was selected without any heritage surveys, and it is concerning to the Greens that SA Water would go against the wishes of traditional owners, failing to engage, and also why they would also refuse to provide adequate answers to ensure the Barngarla people understood why Billy Lights Point was chosen.

There are much better locations to select from, it is argued, that would not destroy a unique and pristine marine environment that is a community asset, that will not destroy jobs in a $200 million per year agriculture and fishing industry, and will not decimate a $400 million per year tourism industry, as well as all the benefits that flow from that. These are contentious issues but they are urgent issues so, with the Greens' support, I urge that this committee not drag on. It is a matter that is pressing, it is urgent, and it demands our full attention.

There are, of course, also significant fish trap complexes at Billy Lights Point, and the SA government heritage report from the 1980s, commissioned by the SA government's Department of Environment and Planning, indicated that the fish trap complex be preserved in its entirety.

It is clear that Billy Lights Point is a controversial site selection, but water security for the Eyre Peninsula is vital and it is urgent, so these processes need to be appropriately and urgently scrutinised. We also indeed need to unite to ensure that the future of water on Eyre Peninsula is protected. With that, I commend the motion.

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