Legal action looms over water sharing plans

Sydney Morning Herald By Harriet Alexander May 29, 2020

Floodplain graziers and environmental groups are considering legal action against the NSW government if it signs off on controversial water sharing plans, arguing the plans do not adequately take into account the needs of downstream users and the environment.

The Australian Floodplain Association, Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association and Inland Rivers Network have not ruled out litigation in the Land and Environment Court or the Federal Court if the plans are not amended to more evenly share the pain of a drier climate.

Grazier Stuart Le Lievre, who lives on the Darling River between Louth and Tilpa in northwest NSW, said the connectivity of the system meant that unsustainable extraction under one plan had consequences for every catchment.

“The whole essence, which everyone knows, is the bucket of water is nowhere what it used to be,” said Mr Le Lievre, vice president of the Australian Floodplain Association.

“[The northern basin irrigators] haven’t given up anything. They’ve still got all their entitlements. When it gets to the Barwon Darling, what have we got to share?”

Emma Carmody, special counsel for the Environmental Defenders Office, said that if the upper catchments were governed by plans that did not adequately consider the downstream impact of extraction, there may be not be enough water in the system to supply the lower part of the river.

This ran counter to the water sharing principles set out in legislation – that water sources and their dependent ecosystems needed to be protected first and foremost, followed by basic landholder rights. Town water and stock and domestic use also took precedence over irrigation.

Dr Carmody argued in a piece published in the EDO bulletin on Friday that this left the plans open to a challenge in the Land and Environment Court or Federal Court.

“The environment … needs specific volumes of water at specific times to stay alive,” said Dr Carmody, who represents some of the groups considering litigation.

“That’s why mandatory rules in water sharing plans that protect first flows after drought, low flows and all environmental flows from extraction are absolutely vital. There are also legal obligations under both state and commonwealth laws that can only be properly satisfied if these rules are in place.”

Water sharing plans set out how water is divided between irrigators, towns and the environment in each catchment and set limits on what can be extracted from the rivers and groundwater for the next decade.

Water Minister Melinda Pavey wants them signed off by June 30, when the water resource plans that they underpin are due to be submitted to the federal government under the Murray Darling Basin Plan. But the old water sharing plans have not expired and there are calls for the drafts to be amended before they are signed.

Chairman of the Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association Garry Hall was on the stakeholder advisory panel for the Macquarie water sharing plan. He said it was hamstrung by a ministerial requirement that no third party could be adversely affected.

“We couldn’t restrict take, so to me it was just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Mr Hall said.

“The solution was deemed to be out of scope. It was very much influenced by a large representation from the irrigation community.”

NSW Irrigation Council chief executive Luke Simpkins said all the water sharing plans considered downstream users and any legal action was unlikely to be successful.

“People down there say that northern irrigators have got their hands around the neck of the National party MPs and it’s just not true, because otherwise where’s the 100 per cent general security allocations?” Mr Simpkins said.

“It’s just not happening and these conspiracy theories are just a distraction from the main event.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/legal-action-looms-over-water-sharing-plans-20200526-p54wkn.html

Latest drought data not used in new water plans

Sydney Morning Herald

By Harriet Alexander and Peter Hannam

The NSW government will not take into account the latest drought in calculating how much water should be available to irrigators under draft plans condemned by regional councils and a Nationals MP.

While dams that supply some of the state’s biggest towns still hover below 20 per cent capacity, the government is poised to sign off on a water allocation system that backdates the “drought of record” gauge used as far back as 2004.

The NSW upper house passed a motion last week calling on Water Minister Melinda Pavey to amend the plans using up-to-date drought figures before submitting the water resource plans to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for accreditation.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/latest-drought-data-not-used-in-new-water-plans-20200518-p54ty9.html

No drought-proofing from new dams

Media release

12 May 2020

No drought-proofing from new dams

National Party plans to build new dams and expand others will enrich irrigators, degrade river ecosystems and will not protect communities from climate change and drought unless the government changes Water Sharing Plans to reflect our drying climate, environment groups have warned.

“The projects the Nationals outlined today will not provide more water security and drought-proof communities,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Chris Gambian said.

“Bigger dams will just mean more water for irrigation and less for the river and other users.”

Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Water Minister Melinda Pavey announced this week that $245m would be spent building the business case for three dam projects:

  •        raising Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan River
  •        building the Dungowan Dam on the Peel River
  •        building a dam on the Mole River near Tenterfield

The Nationals claim the dams will store water that can sustain communities during dry spells,[1] but water allocations from dams in these river systems will not be based on the most recent drought.[2]

“Time and again, the Nationals have shown their water policy is to provide maximum water to the irrigation industry,” Mr Gambian said.

“This is reflected in the new Water Sharing Plans, due to commence on 1 July, 2020. Bigger dams will mean more water taken from our river systems, not more water stored for drought protection.”

Inland Rivers Network President Bev Smiles said: “The new Water Sharing Plans do not use the most recent drought of record and were bound to over-estimate the volume of water available for irrigation.

“For the Lachlan River, the lowest inflows on record are based on those before July 2004. The Millenium Drought and the current more severe drought are being ignored.”

This issue was confirmed by Water Minister Pavey in Parliament last November where she said:

To include a rule that automatically requires the water supply system to adjust to new record drought would potentially result in significant quantities of water being locked away from productive use.” [3]

 

“The new Water Sharing Plans will cause the same problems to arise with each new drought,” Ms Smiles said.

“In 2016, all NSW dams were full. By the end of 2018 they were empty because all the water had been handed out, not stored for drought protection.

“This is what will happen again with these new projects if we don’t change the Water Sharing Plans to reflect the scarcity of water in our drying climate.

“The Water Sharing Plans need to be changed so the most recent drought is considered when making annual water allocations.

“We don’t need more, bigger dams. We need water sharing rules that provide water security for severe drought conditions.”

MEDIA CONTACT: James Tremain | 0419 272 254

 BACKGROUND TO WATER SHARING PLAN RULES

 Wyangala Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the Lachlan Regulated River Water Source 2020

Part 10 System Operation Requirements

Division 4 General System Operations Rules

58 Maintenance of water supply

(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2004.

(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source,

 Dungowan Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the Peel Regulated River Water Source 2020

Part 10 System Operation Requirements

Division 2 General System Operations Rules

52 Maintenance of water supply

(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2010.

(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source

Mole River Dam

Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Border Rivers Regulated River Water Source 2020

Part 10 System Operation Requirements

Division 3 General System Operations Rules

57 Maintenance of water supply

(1) In this clause, the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source is identified by flow information held by the Department prior to 1 July 2009.

(2) The operator must operate the water supply system in such a way that water would be able to be supplied during a repeat of the period of lowest accumulated inflows to the water source

[1] Media Release Deputy Premier and Water Minister, 10 May 2020, STAGE 1 BEGINS ON STATE SIGNIFICANT DAMS

[2] See attached briefer: Water Sharing Plan rules are not based on the most recent lowest inflows on record

[3] https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Hansard/Pages/HansardFull.aspx#/DateDisplay/HANSARD-1820781676-80754/HANSARD-1820781676-80801

 

 

More questions raised about Macquarie River re-regulating storage project

Daily Liberal IRN letter 6/5/2020

Inland Rivers Network wrote to Dubbo’s Daily Liberal newspaper about a proposed re regulating weir between Narromine and Warren on the Wambuul Macquarie River. The letter was in response to a piece submitted by outgoing WaterNSW CEO David Harris published by the paper.

Far from assuring the public that environmental concerns will be addressed during the planning process, WaterNSW raised more questions than they answered.

Daily Liberal WaterNSW letter 1/5/2020

Support the campaign by signing the petition to Stop the Macquarie River re regulating weir

Lower Darling flows reach isolated NSW town of Pooncarie….

ABC Mildura, 11th April 2020

By Leonie Thorne, Cherie von Hörchner and Christopher Testa

The first flows down the Lower Darling in 18 months are fast approaching the river’s junction with the Murray, and will soon join the river end to end for the first time in more than a year.

It had brought a sense of relief to communities that were also in their second year of drought.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-11/lower-darling-flows-hit-pooncarie-first-time-in-18-months/12137306

 

NSW irrigators Peter and Jane Harris guilty of breaching water-take regulations

Two prominent New South Wales irrigators have been found guilty of illegally taking water for use on their farm near Brewarrina.

Key points:
  • Irrigators Peter and Jane Harris are found in breach of the approvals associated with the water licence for their farm
  • They will be sentenced on a date to be fixed; they have 28 days to appeal the decision
  • WaterNSW says the court action shows how serious it is about managing water resources

The NSW Land and Environment Court found that Peter and Jane Harris illegally extracted water for irrigation from the Barwon River during June 2016, contrary to a condition of their joint water use and supply approvals under the Water Management Act 2000.

www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2020-03-19/nsw-irrigators-guilty-of-water-take-regulations

The Country Hour 20/3/2020 with Dr Emma Carmody

www.abc.net.au Country Hour

Judgement:

www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision

 

 

Have your say: Draft Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Great Artesian Basin Groundwater Sources 2020

The NSW Government Department of Industry Water has prepared a draft replacement plan and is seeking feedback from water users and other interested parties as part of the public exhibition phase.

The Water Sharing Plan is a regulatory plan under the Water Management Act 2000, and is in effect for a 10-year period. The purpose of the NSW Great Artesian Basin Water Sharing Plan is to set the rules that determine how water is to be shared between the environment and water users.

This Plan applies to the groundwater sources of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). These groundwater resources are referred to as the:

  • Eastern Recharge Groundwater Source,
  • Southern Recharge Groundwater Source,
  • Surat Groundwater Source,
  • Warrego Groundwater Source, and
  • Central Groundwater Source.

NSW GAB WSP 2020

Join us at one of the information sessions to learn more about:

  • the draft NSW Great Artesian Basin Water Sharing Plan 2020
  • the proposed changes to the water sharing plan arrangements
  • how to make a submission

Public information sessions 

  • 2 March 2020, Moree Services Club, Moree, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • 3 March 2020, Lightning Ridge RSL, Lightning Ridge, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • 4 March 2020, Diggers on the Darling, Bourke, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • 5 March 2020, Coonamble Bowling Club, Coonamble, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm

RSVP 

To attend the information session, please RSVP by email to water.relations@dpi.nsw.gov.au