Drillers of water bores are a vital but often the most under-examined actor in water law and regulation. They carry out drilling, bore construction, and other work on bores on behalf of landholders to supply groundwater for stock, domestic, irrigation and town water supply purposes. The quality of drilling practices can have significant impacts on groundwater misuse, wastage and degradation. As such, Australia licenses and regulates their activities to ensure the protection of the groundwater resource and the long-term economic production of groundwater.
Beyond the need to licence drillers, drillers themselves play a unique role in providing information to landholders. Because landholders will typically engage a driller to access groundwater, drillers may often be one of the first points of contact about the landholders obligations under NSW water management legislation (e.g. to obtain a works approval). This role means the drillers have the potential to be a key party that assist or undermine water user compliance with their obligations under NSW water management legislation.
Given the limited examination for regulation of drillers to date, and their potential lynchpin role in ensuring landholder compliance, this paper examine and assess the operation of drilling industry regulation in Australia. Drawing on approximately 45 interviews with drillers and government officers in Australia, it provides insights into the effectiveness of these regulations. Its findings reveal some success, but suggest regulation remains confounded by a lack of inspectoral oversight due to geography, resourcing and driller mobility, and detailed administrative and training arrangements. The paper canvasses options for addressing these challenges, and argues that engaging individual drillers, and the drilling industry as whole, more effectively in the regulatory process requires a best practice accreditation approach.