WA could hike water theft fines

West Australian Water Minister Dave Kelly has indicated fines for water theft could be increased to protect a resource that is drying up in parts of the state from climate change.

West Australian Water Minister Dave Kelly has indicated fines for water theft could be increased to protect a resource that is drying up in parts of the state from climate change.

The suggestion of a penalty increase follows from the Bunbury Magistrates Court fining WA potato king Tony Galati and his brother Vincent, of Spudshed fame, a combined $10,500 for using 180 million litres more than one of their water licences on a Myalup farm in the South West allowed.

The excess water represented about 18 per cent of the brothers’ 1 billion litres of water licence for the farm. The fine is about $1 for every 17,000 litres of water taken.

Globally, it takes 287 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of potatoes. With 180 million litres, a potato farmer could produce about 627 tonnes of potatoes.

Under the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914, an individual can be fined a maximum of $10,000 for taking water without a permit. A convicted corporation could pay as much as $50,000 if caught.

A Galati family-owned business was fined $20,000 in 2016 for using 320 million litres more than allocated across two Myalup properties. At the time, Tony said his company accepted it had exceeded its water use on the two properties. He explained it had been significantly under allocations on nearby farms.

The Galatis have water licences across WA. They are dotted around the South West, around Perth and Kununurra, totalling more than 4 billion litres of water. They have blamed administrative issues for using too much water from individual licences

Bigger penalties for water theft coming soon

Kelly said changes to penalties could be introduced as part of a soon-to-be finalised Water Reform Bill.

“[The Bill] will consolidate six pieces of water legislation, some dating back over 100 years, into one modern statute that will be easier to understand and administer,” he said.

“The reforms will safeguard water supplies and increase certainty for water users. They will ensure the long-term sustainability of water resources and protecting the environment.

“As part of the development of the new legislation, consideration will be given to ensure the penalties in place for the illegal take of water. They will serve as an appropriate deterrent to protect this precious resource being impacted by climate change.”

Opposition water spokesman David Honey said there should be significant penalties for the deliberate exceedance of water licenses.

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