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Another blow for iconic Twin Falls World Heritage site

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The picturesque Springbrook Mountain has been approved for a destructive commercial groundwater project (Screenshots via YouTube)

A judge has ruled in favour of a controversial water drilling project on the Gold Coast that will further impact the local environment, writes David McIlveen.

THE CASE BETWEEN Hoffman Drilling and Gold Coast City Council (GCCC) reached a conclusion earlier this week in Queensland’s Planning and Environment Court, with Judge Nicole Kefford approving a controversial commercial groundwater drilling and extraction project on Springbrook Mountain, in southeast Queensland.

The case represents the end of a battle between local residents, GCCC and the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS), which sought to stop the commercial extraction project, bore water from which will be trucked down the mountain for bottling and marketed as “spring water”.

The site for extraction is approximately one kilometre upstream of the iconic Twin Falls in Springbrook National Park, which forms part of the Gondwana Rainforest World Heritage Area. The project was strongly opposed on the grounds that reduction in natural groundwater flows to soil, springs and watercourses would impact the environmental values of the mountain, as well as protected flora and fauna.

Two existing commercial water extraction sites have been operational on Springbrook Mountain since the late 1990s, however, no additional operations have since been approved and in 2020, following community opposition to proposed new “water mines”, a temporary moratorium banning such projects on Tamborine and Springbrook Mountains was introduced by the Queensland Government.

GCCC unanimously refused the initial application for the project, which was appealed by Hoffman Drilling to the Planning and Environment Court in January 2020. The appeal was finally heard in late February through early March of this year and concluded on Monday 7 March after the GCCC agreed to the appeal being allowed on the basis of the rate of approved extraction being halved, from 16 megalitres per year to eight.

In addition, environmental monitoring and control conditions will be imposed on the operation, which are yet to be negotiated by parties to the case.

Springbrook Mountain resident, appeal co-respondent and staunch opponent of the project, Ceris Ash, among others, has expressed disappointment that the project has been given the go-ahead.

However, the Environmental Defenders Office, which represented ARCS in the appeal, has said in an emailed statement that ‘This case was always about protecting Springbrook, its ecosystems and natural wonders like the Twin Falls’ and that halving of permitted extraction will ‘significantly reduce the threat to this delicate environment and the neighbouring World Heritage area’.

A final hearing is scheduled for later this year, on 8 May.

David McIlveen studied science and environmental engineering at the University of Queensland and now works as an environmental consultant in Brisbane.

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