Push to review NT's largest water licence

·2-min read

A powerful Indigenous land council has called on the Northern Territory government to review a water license handed to a company planning to build a massive Central Australian fruit and vegetable farm.

Fortune Agribusiness wants to build a 3500-hectare irrigated horticulture project at Singleton cattle station, about 380km north of Alice Springs.

The NT government awarded it on April 8 the biggest water license granted in the Territory to extract 40 billion litres of underground water per year for 30 years, causing concern among native title holders.

"We have received independent expert advice that the license decision does nothing to assuage the grave concerns these groups have raised," Central Land Council chief executive Lesley Turner said on Thursday.

"There is not enough data to address concerns of constituents or independent scientists."

The CLC also wants an independent peer review of Fortune's environmental management plan and all work halted until the review process is finished.

"We call on the government to immediately stop the native vegetation clearance and non-pastoral use permits for the company, " Mr Turner said.

He said native title holders want the CLC to pursue all avenues for objection because too little is known about how the decision will affect community drinking water in the decades to come, including the impact on native plants, animals and sacred sites.

Hydrogeologist Ryan Vogwill said the NT government's water resource and impact assessment was simplistic and based on inadequate investigations.

It ignored most culturally and ecologically important places, such as wetlands, springs and soaks, he said.

Dr Vogwill says negative environmental impacts may not show up for a decade or more and by then it may be difficult to restrict or reduce the project's water allocation.

Fortune Agribusiness chairman Peter Wood said the company respected the CLC's decision to seek a review in accordance with the NT's Water Act.

The NT Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security has previously said Fortune would have to comply with strict controls to keep the licence.

Rigorous modelling and data showed the licensed water was sustainable and its extraction would not adversely impact other users or the environment, Controller of Water Resources Jo Townsend said when the licence was granted.

Fortune expects the $180 million project to be producing fruit and vegetables by late-2022 pending appeals to the licence.

The farm will cultivate permanent crops such as mandarins, grapes and avocados.

About 110 full-time jobs and 1350 seasonal jobs will be on offer along with opportunities for businesses in nearby towns, such as Tennant Creek.

Groundwater will be released to Fortune in four stages over the next decade, peaking at 40,000 megalitres through about 100 bores.