There is more certainty for farmers and the environment after the NSW Government’s licensing and measurement reform became law in Water Sharing Plans for the Border Rivers and Gwydir Valleys.
Minister for Lands and Water Kevin Anderson and Minister for Environment James Griffin have approved changes to the Border Rivers, Gwydir and Macquarie Water Sharing Plans.
Mr Anderson said this reform will mean floodplain harvesting is controlled within the legal limits, benefiting the environment, farmers and downstream water users.
“When it comes to managing water in NSW my view is healthy rivers, healthy farms and healthy communities, not one or the other,” Mr Anderson said.
“This is a policy that supports farmers and downstream communities and will return around 100 billion litres of water to our floodplains and river systems per year on average, and more than three times that volume in wetter years, which is a great outcome.”
Minister for Environment James Griffin said the policy is about improving environmental protection while recognising the need for adaptive management.
“For decades, floodplain harvesting has had no restrictions, going unmonitored, unmeasured and unconstrained impacting upon river ecosystems and the plant and animal species that depend on them,” Mr Griffin said.
“As part of these new plans, we have ensured that an independent review of the local access triggers and the downstream Menindee target will occur within the first three years of the plans, with changes to follow if warranted and the review published.
“These are the first-ever enforceable controls put into law that will reduce, restrict and limit floodplain harvesting and strengthen existing protections for water sources and dependent ecosystems.”
The NSW Government is working with local communities on the ground to continually improve river connectivity.
“We’ve consulted extensively with all stakeholders on these proposed new rules for floodplain harvesting licences,” Mr Anderson said.
“Among these rules, we’re proposing that restrictions will apply to floodplain harvesting licences when the water volume in Menindee Lakes drops below 195 gigalitres – these are the first restrictions of this type anywhere in the Murray-Darling Basin.
“These rules, together with proposed temporary water restriction triggers, will ensure upstream water take, including floodplain harvesting, is balanced against downstream critical human and environmental needs.”
The planned review after three years will allow early monitoring of floodplain harvesting to be carefully evaluated, and for changes to be made without the risk of compensation to licence holders who will benefit from the certainty of regulation.
It follows on from other major connectivity milestones in 2020 when the NSW Government took unprecedented steps to protect the vitally important ‘first flush flows’ from extractions from the Queensland to the South Australian borders, to replenish drinking water supplies and environmental health.
The next steps are expected to include:
By 1 September, licence holders in the Border Rivers and Gwydir valleys will have their water accounts credited and the floodplain harvesting framework will be fully operational
Licences for the Macquarie, Barwon-Darling and Namoi valleys will be determined and will come into effect later this year and in early 2023