Inland Rivers Network condemns new Water Minister Kevin Anderson and the NSW Government for moving closer to granting valuable floodplain harvesting licences, starting with the Gwydir and Border River Valleys, without any regard to the viability of downstream communities and river health.
The issuing of floodplain harvesting licences should be held off until a rigorous environmental, cultural and social assessment of downstream impacts is undertaken and fully understood.
Spokesperson for Inland Rivers Network, Brian Stevens: ‘NSW is one step closer to legalising floodplain harvesting without conducting any comprehensive assessment of the impacts of this water capture. Floodplain water flows should provide water for the Barwon-Darling/Baaka River, for wetland systems, for Aboriginal cultural values and for groundwater recharge.’
‘Downstream communities are being sacrificed by the NSW Government in favour of their wealthy irrigator supporters who have had free unlicensed access to floodplain flows for over 30 years. They are now to be gifted large water entitlements worth many millions of dollars.’
‘Inland Rivers Network agrees that regulation of floodplain water extraction is long overdue, but the NSW Government is planning to issue licences for a large volume of floodplain harvesting based mainly on information provided by the irrigators themselves. Without a comprehensive assessment of downstream impacts, this regulatory process is locking in the ongoing degradation of the NSW Northern Basin rivers and communities.’
‘The call for rigorous impact assessment of floodplain works and flood extraction has been loud and clear across many stakeholder groups in the Murray-Darling Basin but the NSW Government chooses to ignore a fair and just approach to water management in the state.’
Inland Rivers Network welcomes the release of the NSW Parliament Select Committee’s report into floodplain harvesting, which recognises the need for the NSW Government to take a lot more care in the way they propose to licence floodplain harvesting.
Floodplain harvesting is the capture of rainwater flowing overland and water overflowing from flooding rivers. This water take is not licenced or monitored. The volume of water taken has increased dramatically, since the Cap on licenced extractions commenced in 1993/1994, as have the on-farm storage volumes. Floodplain harvesting is one of the main reasons for the demise of the wetlands and the Darling Baaka River.
“We have been calling for the government to work out what the impact of decades of unchecked floodplain harvesting has been on downstream environments and communities before they issue licences, and we are pleased to see the Committee calls for that assessment to be done.” Said Brian Stevens, Secretary of Inland Rivers Network.
The report recommends that the way the Government has calculated new diversion limits for each valley be clearly explained, and they show that each new limit represents an environmentally sustainable level of water take.
“Right now there is a huge risk that the government will issue licences for far too much water, ensuring the environmental collapse of the rivers of the Northern Basin.” Said Mr Stevens.
The report makes several recommendations about illegal and unapproved floodplain works, recommending that all illegal works be removed within six months.
“Floodplain harvesting licences should not be issued to illegal and unapproved works – that should go without saying, but that’s exactly what the Government is planning to do. In the Macquarie Valley for example there are a huge number of unauthorised floodplain works that could be given floodplain harvesting licences worth millions.” Said Mr Stevens
Inland Rivers Network calls on the NSW Government to implement all twenty-five recommendations of the report, as it is critically important that there is accurate metering and monitoring of floodplain harvesting in place before licences are handed out. Mr Stevens also called for end of system flow regulations to be introduced for each of the northern valleys, to ensure water flows in the Barwon-Darling-Baaka River.
Brian Stevens, Secretary of Inland Rivers Network – 0429 903 082
Inland Rivers Network is aghast at moves by the NSW Government to issue brand new access licences for groundwater throughout the state, when current access is mismanaged.
The NSW State Water Strategy, released last August, promised that the Government will develop and implement a NSW Groundwater Strategy and Action Plan to improve groundwater management across NSW. This must be done as soon as possible, and before more access licences for groundwater sources are issued.
Groundwater is too often subject to contamination and over extraction. Issuing brand new entitlements is stealing from the future, instead of fixing the problems we face now. A collapsed aquifer is water storage lost forever.
Severe droughts experienced since the turn of the millennium have seen dependence on groundwater increase sharply, leading to significant drawdown of some groundwater reserves.
“When the rivers start running low the response is to turn to groundwater, rather than deal with the huge problem of over-allocation and water mismanagement.
We need to look at ways we can take less water from the environment, like water recycling and more efficient irrigation,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
Most groundwater bores aren’t required to have meters, and the rollout of compulsory metering for large bores is more of a stroll out. Even though the measurement of groundwater use is woefully inaccurate, significant levels of water theft are still detectable.
Extraction from groundwater sources in the Macquarie and Murrumbidgee valleys was found to be more than 20% over the legal limits in the 2018/2019 year, yet the excessive take was excused by the Murray Darling Basin Authority. 
One-tenth of groundwater users were found to be taking more groundwater than their licence allows in a pilot program run by the Natural Resources Access Regulator this year and the largest fine NRAR can issue is a paltry $1,500.
“If we have legal limits, they should mean something. The law must be applied, and the penalties for stealing water should be high enough to be a deterrent.” said Ms Smiles.
“Groundwater is not a magic pudding we can turn to after we’ve sucked our rivers dry. We can always print more money but we can’t print water.”
Beverly Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network – 0428 817 282
Inland Rivers Network is pleased to see that the final IPART determination released today has allocated funding to build long promised fishways in inland rivers.
Since 2009 WaterNSW have had a legal obligation to build eleven fishways in Inland NSW Rivers to offset the impacts to native fish of several dam upgrade projects.
Obstruction to fish passage in NSW Rivers has played a major role in native fish numbers plummeting by 90% in the last one hundred years. Addressing fish passage is a very important undertaking if this decline in population is to be slowed and turned around.
Yet the critically important fishway projects have been delayed at every hurdle, with WaterNSW citing concern over the costs. Even when the funding was raised from their customers several years ago, the money was spent on other projects.
Now, after twelve years of delays, Inland Rivers Network is very pleased to see detailed and cost efficient plans for the construction of seven of the projects in the next few years. Detailed plans for the remaining four projects will continue to be developed.
“Native Fish have strong instincts to migrate to complete their life cycles. Many obstacles have been built in rivers that stop fish movements to feeding and breeding sites. It’s very important that the problem is fixed,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
There has been significant public money invested in planning for these fishways. Cost efficiency assessments for the fishway implementation strategy was completed back in 2018.
“We are very pleased to finally see detailed timelines and budgets for each project presented by WaterNSW. Significant work has happened behind the scenes planning these projects and it is none too soon for our threatened native fish,” said Ms Smiles.
Media Contacts: Beverly Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network – 0428 817 282 Melissa Gray, Vice President of Inland Rivers Network – 0431 471 310
MEDIA RELEASE Stronger control of floodplain harvesting needed Friday 13 August 2021
Inland Rivers Network has told the NSW Parliamentary Select Inquiry into floodplain harvesting that current NSW Government policy will ensure the continued destruction of the river systems.
Barney Stevens from the Inland Rivers Network said: “The Barwon-Darling-Baaka River depends on its tributaries for water, but continued growth in extractions has destroyed the river and brought on the huge fish kills. One of the major factors in river destruction has been the illegal capture of floodplain flows by irrigators. Now the NSW Government intend to licence this water theft, and the size of each licence will nearly match the amount of water stolen over the past years. The plan is to not only maintain the volume of water taken from the rivers, but to make the licences tradeable. This will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in new property rights awarded to irrigators at no cost to them, only an enormous cost to the river system. Before any floodplain licences are granted there needs to be regulations ensuring adequate flows out of the end of each tributary”
A submission lodged by the Inland Rivers Network with the inquiry today shows that the proposals favour the irrigation industry at the expense of the health of river systems and downstream communities. The submission highlights the lack of environmental assessment of floodplain works, or of flow connectivity needs within valleys and between valleys, in the process leading to regulation of floodplain harvesting in the NSW Northern Basin.
Jonathon Howard from Inland Rivers Network said: “Flood flows are critical for wetlands, fish breeding, groundwater recharge and support of culturally significant areas in the landscape. The current process of assessing and regulating floodplain harvesting will lock in ongoing degradation of our river systems.”
“The NSW Government has no process to remove illegal or environmentally damaging structures on floodplains. This issue must be addressed before new licences for floodplain harvesting are issued.”
Contact: Brian (Barney) Stevens 0429 903 082 Jonathon Howard 0422 266 023
The Morrison Government is failing the Basin Plan by shifting money for the environment to the irrigation industry. A report released today by The Australia Institute has exposed that billions of dollars earmarked for the environment is now going to NSW irrigators for bridge upgrades and new fences.
The Federal Government has $1.48 billion to invest on the public’s behalf to return 450 billion litres (GL) of water to improve river health in the Murray-Darling Basin by 2024.
The projects listed for investment of public funds include fencing, upgrading 1,200 bridges on farms and cleaning out irrigation channels – all in NSW.
“Serious questions must be asked about how upgrading 1,200 bridges and building fences for their mates in NSW could return water to the rivers. The situation is absurd.” says Bev Smiles, President of the Inland Rivers Network.
To date the Morrison Government has spent $68 million on projects that have apparently returned just 2.1 GL of water to the Basin, meaning the water came at an outrageous cost.
Inland Rivers Network is calling on the Federal Government to immediately conduct a full audit of the program and make all of the findings public. Under the Coalition Government, secrecy has been a hallmark of the implementation of the Basin Plan.
Last year an independent review of the plan to return the 450 GL of water to the rivers through efficiency projects found that it was doomed to fail, triggering calls for the Morrison Government to resume open tender buy backs of water from willing sellers.
“This Government are blowing the last chance we have to protect the biggest river system in Australia. The most efficient and cost effective way to return water to rivers is to buy it from willing sellers, and we know there are plenty of willing sellers out there.
“The Morrison Government isn’t even pretending to honour the agreements made at the 2012 signing of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Their disregard for the law, for the rivers of the Basin and the people who live here is staggering.” Says Ms Smiles.
The NSW Governments’ draft Namoi Regional Water Strategy includes a lot of potentially useful and sensible options for water security in the Namoi catchment as we face a drying, warming future. Inland Rivers Network is concerned that by presenting the controversial Dungowan dam proposal as a done deal, most of the good ideas could be filed away forever. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to invest in new technologies and reduce the demand on precious water supplies. “Yet the National Party are stubbornly clinging to an outdated notion that building dams somehow creates more water, when all they do is shift water from people in the lower catchment and damage the river in the process,” said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
The Dungowan dam proposal was used as a case study showing flawed decision making by the Productivity Commission in their review of National Water Reform in February this year.1 “The promise that the expensive Dungowan dam could provide new water in a fully allocated system is an illusion. All this dam would do is deny the environment and water users downstream of their entitlements, and for those upstream send the price of water sky high.” Bev Smiles said. The review found the dam would provide water at a cost of over $60,000 a megalitre, while the current market price for one megalitre is $1,341. “Clearly the dam plan doesn’t make economic sense and the community deserves to see the business case before a funding decision is made,” said Ms Smiles Options in the strategy that Inland Rivers Network support include research into groundwater health, implementing the Native Fish Passage Strategy, and investment into purified recycled water treatments for major towns. Inland Rivers Network congratulates the NSW Government for their work alongside First Nations Groups, and supports options to create an Aboriginal River Ranger program and secure water for cultural sites. “We don’t want to see this opportunity for investment in positive outcomes lost because the Government is rusted on to last century thinking. Dams do not make water.” Media Contacts Bev Smiles 0428 817 282 email@example.com
“Tusked Frogs and Northern Brown Bandicoots – both are amazing finds I would not have dreamt of” said Phil Spark who has been conducting wildlife surveys for decades. “That’s on top of Spotted-tail Quoll, Rakali, Catfish, Murray Cod and so many other species – it seems the Mole River is an ark of conservation for species that are declining or have already disappeared elsewhere.”
Mr Spark was one of three professional ecologists who spent a weekend surveying the site of a proposed dam 25 km west of Tenterfield near the NSW-Queensland border for the Mole River Protection Alliance.
He explained “This is the first place west of the Dividing Range where Tusked frogs have been found for over four decades. They used to be common in the New England Tablelands or North West Slopes but rapidly disappeared in the 1970s.”
Tusked Frogs were severely affected by a pandemic of chytrid fungus, like many other frog species around the world. The species survived in coastal regions but were feared extinct in this region where any remaining Tusked Frogs were declared an endangered population.
Mole Station owner, David Caldwell, showed the ecologists a dead Bandicoot he had found very close to the Mole River downstream from the dam site. “They were excited because bandicoots are very rare in this area. The Australian Museum advised us that there were no previous specimen-based records of this species from west of Tenterfield. The species is likely to be at the western edge of its range in this area which makes the Mole River population significant” Mr Caldwell said. “I’d not seen one before but my father remembers seeing them here long ago – it is lovely to know Bandicoots still live in our valley.”
“It was great to see a camera-trap photo of the Rakali, proving they had survived our extreme drought. Most people call them Water Rats because they live in rivers, although they are not much like rats. My grandfather told me people around here called them moles and this may be the origin of the Mole River’s name”.
NSW Fisheries surveys in early 2020 showed at least six fish species had survived the extreme drought in Mole River, including three species threatened by river regulation Murray Cod, Catfish and Purple-spotted Gudgeons.
This brief survey brought the number of fish species re-found to 8 and recorded 11 frog species, 3 kinds of turtle, 42 birds and 16 native mammal species.
Kate Boyd of the Mole River Protection Alliance says “This river valley is an ark in which so much wildlife has survived past land use changes, diseases and introduced predators. The forest on the riverbanks suffered a bit in the drought but it remained as a refuge with habitats these species need. Many thousands of bottlebrush shrubs overhanging the river channel flowered brilliantly last spring when everything was able to reproduce again.
“This is the ark in which these species have a chance of surviving climate change.”
WaterNSW proposes to build a dam that would inundate and permanently destroy about 13 km of the Mole River, plus the side creeks, River Oak forest, woodlands and productive grazing land.
“All of the Mole River downstream would be adversely impacted by greatly changed river flows if funds to build the dam are found.”
$24m of public funds are currently being spent trying to work out a final business case for the dam. Consultants have been paid to look for threatened species in the inundation site but their findings have not been made public. They may be used to calculate part of the money required to “offset” loss of threatened species – a cost to include in the business case along with construction costs and benefits – the dam is primarily to improve reliability for irrigated agriculture.
Kate Boyd says “Water NSW has not looked for threatened species on downstream properties although the impacts and “offset” cost calculations can’t be done properly without this. Mole River Protection Alliance may have to find volunteers to do its own survey of wildlife habitats downstream and indicate how big this hole in the business case could be.
“The business case may not be made public either, unless the Premier or Treasurer are persuaded to release it before considering expenditure of more funds.
“It is not possible to offset the destruction of this whole endangered population of Tusked Frogs by a dam. These frogs live in creeks, natural rivers and on sheltered riverbanks, not in drowned dead treetops or up hills. No amount of money can create another river with the right habitats for Tusked Frogs and threatened fish to thrive in.”
The Mole River Protection Alliance, of local people and wider community interests, believes careful promotion of the valley for its wonderful wildlife and other values would be a much better future.
Phil Spark 0427 642245
David Caldwell 02 6737 5429
Kate Boyd 0429724026 Kate can’t take calls at work 8am-5.15 Monday-Wednesday:
so please leave a text message then I will call you back
Inland Rivers Network and Tamworth Water Security Alliance welcome the draft Productivity Commission Report recommendation that all town water supply options should be on the table with a rigorous, consistent and transparent assessment of costs and benefits.
The Productivity Commission draft findings into the review of the National Water Initiative, released on 11 February, includes a chapter on Urban Water Supply. Principles recommended in Advice 11.1 ‘Best Urban System Planning’ includes that: All supply options are considered and their relative merits subject to a rigorous, consistent and transparent assessment of costs and benefits. 1
“Tamworth Water Security Alliance (TWSA) has been calling for all water security options to be on the table and fully costed, with an understanding of who will manage the projects, who will benefit most and who will pay,’ said David McKinnon, TWSA representative.
‘It is pleasing to see that the community position is backed up by the Australian Productivity Commission.’
‘The NSW and Federal Governments have promised a considerable amount of public funding to build a new dam at Dungowan, that may not be the best solution to Tamworth’s water security problems. It may also prove to be economically unviable,’ said Bev Smiles, President of Inland Rivers Network.
‘The least the community can expect is that the business case for Dungowan Dam is made available to the public so there is assurance that a rigorous cost-benefits analysis is undertaken.’
‘The people who are paying for this new dam should have access to the business case,’ said Ms Smiles. ‘There are many costs including to the health of the Peel and Namoi Rivers, downstream water users, to native fish populations, platypus and other water dependent species.
The NSW Government must show they are serious about managing the state’s precious water
resources by providing open public access to all water licence and water trading information.
The Inland Rivers Network submission to the public consultation that closed on 1 February
emphasised the need for a free public single source Water Register.
Like Western Australia, the NSW Water Register should include all details of water
entitlements; water allocations; meter readings; real time water account balance and all trading
activities, as well as any convictions from water theft.
The exposure of seriously poor water management by the ABC Four Corners program
‘Pumped’ in 2017, resulted in recommendations from the independent Matthews Report to
improve transparency around water ownership and trading.
“Public confidence in the State government’s approach to transparency has not improved with
the latest approach out for comment,” said Bev Smiles, President.
‘The proposal is basically business as usual with information spread across numerous
websites and a huge cost to gain access the Water Access Licence information.’
‘If other states can provide free public information from a single source, we have to ask what
is NSW hiding?’
‘The only way to avoid ongoing allegations of water theft and corruption is to be upfront about
who owns what, what they are extracting or trading and how the Government is regulating the
water industry and market,’ said Mel Gray, Healthy Rivers Dubbo
‘This Government has been sprung time after time favouring their big corporate mates at the
expense of everyone else. If they want us to trust them, this is their opportunity to come clean.’