Independent Panel Assessment of the Management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush Event
Final Report – September 2020
From late January to the end of April 2020, widespread rain fell across various parts of northwest New South Wales (NSW) and southern Queensland, with some parts receiving more than
200 mm of rain in just a couple of days. This rainfall created significant inflows
to the Northern Murray-Darling Basin Border Rivers, Peel, Namoi, Gwydir and Macquarie
valleys and along the Barwon-Darling River, for the first time in several years following an
extended record drought.
A series of temporary restrictions on water extractions (including by floodplain harvesting)
across the northern NSW rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin were introduced in January-March
2020 under the provisions of the NSW Water Management Act 2000 (WM Act), to responsively
manage the first flows and prioritise water security for critical human and environmental needs
which had been exacerbated by the extreme drought. This became known as the 2020 Northern
Basin First Flush event. It was the first time that NSW managed a first flush event in this way.
In March 2020, the NSW Government commissioned an independent assessment into the
management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush event following the 2018-2019 drought in
the Northern Murray-Darling Basin.
- Management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush Event was complex.
- The first flush event achieved some wonderful outcomes for an environment and communities in need.
- These positive outcomes have been overshadowed by significant levels of frustration and stress across communities.
- The Panel believes that there was insufficient resourcing in place to adequately plan and communicate for the first flush event.
- The decision-making framework and flow forecasting were reasonably robust, but there are some important improvements to be made.
- Transparency of decision-making and communications need to be improved for future events.
- Use of temporary water restrictions demonstrated NSW Government’s commitment to protecting environmental water and implementing some, but not all, of the recommendations arising from the Ken Matthews inquiry, Vertessy report and NRC review.
- The continued implementation of NSW reforms regarding metering, floodplain harvesting and connectivity is crucial to improving first flush management.
- While first flush events could be successfully managed under temporary water restrictions, embedding arrangements in the regulatory and policy framework would enhance transparency and certainty.