Tuesday, 16 August 2016

In today's political climate is there hope that the free-for-all that is NSW water rights will be curbed?

The Daily Examiner, 8 August 2016, p.16:


The water division of the NSW Department of Primary Industry (DPI) is currently undertaking a review of rural landowners' harvestable water rights - the percentage of their property's water run-off they are allowed to take.

Currently landowners bordering permanent water courses are entitled to pump sufficient water for domestic use and livestock without a licence. However, should they wish to take additional water for irrigation or any other reason, a licence is required.

Rural landowners are also entitled to harvestable rights (HR) which, in NSW coastal areas, is 10% of run-off from their properties, an amount determined through complex calculations based on average rainfall. They are also allowed, without formal approval, to construct a dam, or dams, big enough to store that entitlement on smaller upper catchment gullies, known as first and second order streams.

With the increase in the development of intensive horticulture in the region, comes the need for guaranteed water supplies, which invariably includes the construction of large dams, which are then used to irrigate the orchards. However, those dams are continually collecting run-off well in excess of the 10% allowance.

However, when questioned about this seeming anomaly, DPI Water explains: "The harvestable rights relate to dam capacity not to actual usage so there is potential to capture and use more water than the actual dam capacity in an irrigation year."

It gets worse. The laws also allow landowners to build, again without the need for approvals, any number of 'off-stream' storages, i.e. dams that do not collect run-off, into which water can be pumped from the HR dam.

Irrigators have jumped at the opportunity presented by the review, and are lobbying for increased allowances and relaxation of current laws to allow HR dams to be built on the larger, often permanent flowing, third order streams.

Clearly a review is long overdue, and there needs to be strict regulation of the distribution of this precious commodity, which must include compliance monitoring that ensures fairness for all users, particularly the environment.

John Edwards
Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition

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