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Climate-based legal challenge to NSW water-sharing plan

The Nature Conservation Council has launched legal proceedings to have the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan 2021 ruled invalid, alleging it was made without properly considering the future impacts of climate change. [1] 

It is the first time in Australia — and possibly the world — that a catchment-wide water sharing instrument has been challenged on climate-related grounds. 

The Nature Conservation Council is represented by the Environmental Defenders Office and Brett Walker SC.  

Proceedings are being taken against the Water Minister, who made the Border Rivers WSP, and the Environment Minister, who provided concurrence. 

“We are alleging that the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan is unlawful because the ministers responsible failed to properly consider the impact climate change is likely to have on the volume of water available to share,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“As a consequence, too much water has been allocated for extraction and too little for the environment and downstream communities on the Barwon and Darling-Barka Rivers. 

“Our rivers and the ecosystems they support are in crisis. Whole sections of the river system have completely dried up.  

“The Menindee Lakes until recently were a dustbowl and the Macquarie Marshes and other wetlands across the state are on the brink of ecological collapse.  
  
“This is a challenge for public administrators right now, and we believe the NSW Government has failed in its duty to meet that challenge. 

“Healthy rivers must be our top priority because they are the lifeblood of communities and ecosystems everywhere, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin.    

“If we fail to keep our rivers alive as a first priority, it doesn’t really matter what our second priority is. We will have lost the fight.  

“Climate change is not some abstract phenomenon that may occur in the distant future. River communities in NSW are bearing the brunt of that change every day, right now. 

“Just 18 months ago, many towns in western NSW were entirely dependent of bores or truck deliveries for their water supplies. 

“It is not just prudent for governments to factor in the impacts of climate change. It is a legal requirement that we are seeking to uphold by taking this action. 

“Climate models used to predict climate change and its impacts are sufficiently robust and we claim they must be taken into account in determining the allocation of water.      

“We wish it was not necessary, but when public officials fail to uphold our environmental laws, we have no choice but to act.” 

VIDEO NEWS GRABS 

Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian.  

REFERENCES 

[1] NSW government faces crucial court challenge to Murray-Darling water plan, The Guardian Australia, 6-10-21 

MEDIA CONTACT: James Tremain | 0419 272 254 

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