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SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: December 27, 2019

SNIP: A Chinese-owned company has been granted approval to run a 96m litre a year commercial water mining operation in severely drought-hit southern Queensland, where locals are on water rations and communities at imminent risk of running dry.

Last week the Southern Downs regional council approved a development application for the company, Joyful View Garden Real Estate Development Resort Pty Ltd, to operate a water extraction and distribution facility at Cherrabah, a large property at Elbow Valley near the Queensland-New South Wales border.

The following day the council implemented extreme water restrictions for residents at the nearby towns of Warwick and Stanthorpe, limiting residents to 80L a day.

Stanthorpe is expected to run out of drinking water within weeks.

Neighbours of Cherrabah have told Guardian Australia they have not had a reliable water supply at their properties for more than a year, and have been trucking water in on a regular basis. Some cattle properties have removed all their cattle.

“I don’t understand how it is allowed to happen,” one resident says.

Joyful View is ultimately owned by Chinese investors Wenxing and Wenwei Ma. The company had attempted to build a large-scale luxury resort at the remote property but pulled the proposal in 2016 after planning and environmental difficulties, including concern for a local population of spotted-tailed quolls.

The water extraction licence for the property was first issued by the Queensland government in 2008 and extended in 2016 to allow Joyful View to pump 96m litres from the aquifer until 2111 – another 92 years. Council documents show the company plans to send the water to a bottling plant on the Gold Coast.

A local newspaper, the Southern Free Times, reported that councillors who voted in favour of the development application at a 18 December meeting said they had no power to regulate groundwater extraction, which was a state responsibility.

The deputy mayor, Jo McNally, reportedly told the meeting the council was aware of many property owners extracting water and selling it outside the region, but that the council could do nothing to stop it.