Water experts and environmentalists are calling for the federal government to take action over the Northern Territory government's massive proposed ground water extraction plan that includes an allocation for gas fracking.
Hydrologists say allowing more than 262 billion litres of water to be pumped per year from an aquifer under the gas-rich Beetaloo Basin is likely to endanger rivers, Indigenous sacred sites, tourism and livestock.
Their findings were published in a report commissioned by Environment Centre NT about the risks of harvesting the equivalent of half the water in Sydney Harbour annually from the Cambrian Limestone Aquifer, the proposed source.
"The science is now clear - these plans could endanger the NT's iconic rivers, springs and billabongs, sacred sites, tourism and drinking water for remote Indigenous communities," director Kirsty Howey said on Tuesday.
"Our rivers are too precious to risk and repeated calls by communities and experts to delay the plan have been ignored by the NT government."
In their report, hydrogeologists Matthew Currell and Christopher Ndehedehe said the proposed annual extraction cap was based on "uncertain" modelling and not enough was understood about the potential effects of pumping that much water from the aquifer.
They also say stygofauna communities could be endangered and the government has failed to adequately address the risk of the salt water entering fresh water areas in the aquifer.
Traditional owner and Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation chair Johnny Wilson said the plan would put the Roper River and Mataranka region and its natural springs at risk.
"The mining industry and the cotton industry mob are going to be able to take as much as they want," he said.
"Our water is our life. If our water is damaged, our sacred waterways, our songlines, then everything we stand for is destroyed."
Mr Wilson claimed the NT government had failed to adequately consult traditional owners.
"They talk to the gas companies, but not to us," he said.
The NT government said it continued to consult widely on the plan, which was "informed by the scientific understanding of the regional aquifers, underpinned by bore drilling and water monitoring programs, groundwater assessments and modelling".
"The first priority is to maintain the vast majority of water from the aquifer it covers, for ecological and cultural values," a spokesman said.
Last month 18 hydrogeologists wrote to the Chief Minister Natasha Fyles condemning the draft plan and water planning in the NT generally.
Ms Howey said the NT government had failed to act on scientists' earlier warnings and a coalition of environmental groups, traditional owners and tourism operators were calling on the federal government to intervene.
"It's time for Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to step in to stop this trainwreck before it's too late," Ms Howey said.
The NT government's draft water allocation plan released last month for the Georgina Wiso area for 2022 to 2032 takes in an area of about 155,000 sq/km in the centre of the territory.
There is very limited water use in the plan area and the NT government says the primary driver for development of the ground water is the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the NT.
That report recommended water allocation plans be developed for the Beetaloo Basin as part of any onshore shale gas production.
The water plan also allocates water for Indigenous businesses, pastoral stations, the environment and public use.
Australian Associated Press