What are the Geothermal Groundwater Licensing Guidelines?

The draft Geothermal Groundwater Licensing Guidelines are aimed at assisting Rural Water Corporations (RWCs) and developers of geothermal resources to understand the licensing and environmental requirements for geothermal groundwater development and use proposals.  They provide a reference to identify when geothermal reinjection is a suitable solution to the disposal of wastewater from geothermal projects.  The Guidelines describe the necessary application and assessment processes, and the linkages between the requirements of the Water Act 1989 (the Water Act), the Environment Protection Act 1970 (the EP Act) and the State Environment Protection Policy (Waters) 2018.

The Guidelines do not introduce additional requirements for geothermal proponents; rather, they provide a map of the current regulatory framework and existing licensing and approval processes.

The Guidelines will assist in the management of environmental risks caused by a lack of certainty of aquifer properties and potential issues associated with other wastewater disposal options.

The Guidelines do not cover the planning permit processes that development proposals must meet.  Planning requirements would need to be met in addition to the relevant groundwater licences and approvals.

Consultation

DELWP is undertaking consultation with stakeholders and the community and welcomes submissions on the draft Guidelines.  Submissions will be accepted until close of business Friday 23 August 2019 and can be emailed to ground.water@delwp.vic.gov.au. For further information please contact Tara Hewitt, Senior Policy Officer, Licensing – Groundwater and Unregulated Systems on 03 9637 9699.

The draft Guidelines are available here (PDF, 651.1 KB) or in an accessible version (DOCX, 1.8 MB).

Geothermal Groundwater Licensing Essentials

Increased demand for geothermal groundwater is being driven by the popularity of developments such as hot springs and the use of geothermal resources for heating. To provide for more equitable sharing of geothermal resources, and better management of waste streams, clarity is needed about reinjection requirements for resource managers and geothermal developers.

The use of reinjection allows developers to demonstrate industry best practice rather than disposing of wastewater by other methods, such as via a sewer, watercourse, evaporative system, or ocean outfall.

The Guidelines can provide the environment and other groundwater users protection from the potential impacts of other users through managing the quality and temperature of reinjected water.

Reinjected treated wastewater can be offset against the groundwater extraction volume. This can enable the potential for an increased number of users to be authorised to access a limited resource. In this way, geothermal reinjection can improve outcomes in communities by maximising the productive use of water.

The processes involved in applying for relevant water licences and approvals, and assessing whether reinjection is an appropriate condition, are provided under the Water Act and the EP Act.  These are explained in the draft Guidelines to provide a process map for proponents.  In summary:

  • Proponents apply, via the relevant RWC, for a section 51 licence to take and use water under the Water Act. They may already be aware of the possibility of reinjection requirements, or this may be discussed during the licence application process. The applicant will then need to prepare an Initial Project Assessment.
  • The project will be screened by the RWC. At this stage the Initial Project Assessment would be referred to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for comment.
  • The next stage requires the submission and assessment of a full Scheme Project Plan. The plan must include a risk assessment of the project, and proposed risk management strategies.  As well as the section 51 licence, applicants will also need to apply for a licence to construct a bore under section 67 of the Water Act. Where reinjection is the wastewater disposal method, an application to dispose to an aquifer under section 76 of the Water Act is also required.

Projects may be subject to EPA works approvals. Projects with significant risk will require a scheme pilot. Scheme Project Plans will be assessed by the RWC, and final approval granted where the scheme meets all requirements. If found to be the best method of wastewater disposal, reinjection will be a condition on the section 51 take and use licence.

Standard licence and approval conditions will apply to geothermal projects. Further conditions, including metering, monitoring and reporting may also be required.

Separate to this process, proponents of geothermal projects also need to apply for and obtain the required planning approvals.

Page last updated: 22/07/19