– Dr John Scotcher
Prior to 1972, the establishment of large-scale state-sponsored and private afforestation was promoted to supply the increasing demand for mining and structural timber. There were no laws before 1972 that limited the expansion of plantation forests.
In 1972, permits were required for the establishment of plantations due to evidence that plantations use more water than the indigenous vegetation they replaced. All permits were issued by the Department of Forestry subject to certain conditions, the most important of which was the exclusion of plantations from within a 20m buffer zone adjoining water bodies and rivers (normally 20 metres).
On 1 October 1998 the National Water Act (NWA) came into effect which required that declared water uses required a water use license (WUL). For practical reasons, the change to WUL could not occur immediately. The NWA therefore provided for the temporary continuation of a declared existing water use where such water use had taken place at any time during a period of two years immediately before the commencement of the Act – the qualifying period – 1 October 1996 to 1 October 1998. Any declared water use during this period was considered as existing lawful use (ELU). Plantation forestry is a declared water use and is described as a stream flow reduction activity – the use of land for afforestation which has been or is being established for commercial forestry.
In practical terms, this temporary continuation of an existing water use allowed for the retrospective recognition of plantations established before the permit system was introduced in 1972, as well as from 1972 until 1 October 1998, to be an ELU.
Between 2000 and 2001, the DWS required all declared water uses to be registered with the department. The registration does not grant any form of legality to declared water uses, but is a step in the process of issuing as WUL.
In the last few years, the DWS has initiated the NWA validation and verification requirements where the registered water use provided by the timber grower in hectares of plantation is validated against the DWS data base.
Once validated, the verified water use was validated with individual timber growers catchment by catchment. Where differences between the two processes were evident, this was noted or altered by the DWS in the presence of the timber grower.
So if you are a timber grower, you need to ensure that the extent of the plantation on the land has been registered with the DWS, validated against the DWS data base, and verified with what is present on the farm. If the timber was planted prior to 1972, this must be demonstrated by reference to aerial photographs where afforestation during the qualifying period is visible.
If your timber was established after 1972, then a permit illustrating the location and area of the plantation corresponds to what you have on the farm during the qualifying period. If there is less timber on the farm during the qualifying period, then it is only this area of land that is an ELU.