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Committee recommendations would improve water management, sustainability and Indigenous rights

The NSW Government should implement all the recommendations of the Legislative Council’s Floodplain Harvesting report to ensure the sustainable and prudent management of one of the state’s largest water resources. [1]  

“We welcome the key findings of the report and urge the government to adopt all 25 recommendations,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said.   

“The reports’ first recommendation is that the government assess the downstream environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts of floodplain harvesting — something environment groups have been asking for years. 

“The adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure is especially relevant to water management in the Murray-Darling Basin.  

“We strongly support the committee’s recommendation to urgently meter all floodplain harvesting and implement a ‘no meter, no pump’ rule."

It is estimated that water “harvested” from floodplains constitutes up to 30% of all available water. The unregulated harvesting and storage of this water has serious negative consequences for downstream ecosystems, communities and businesses. By catching lots of smaller floods, floodplain harvesting artificially extends the length of droughts and pushes ecosystems to the point of collapse. 

“The report points out that the NSW Government has failed to meet its obligations by allowing unchecked growth of unregulated floodplain harvesting well in excess of the 1994 Cap.  

“Issuing floodplain harvesting licences should not be rushed at the urging of irrigators or we will repeat the mistakes of the past by over-allocating water resources and entrenching unsustainable practices. 

“This could also expose taxpayers to massive liabilities if licences need to be bought back.”  

Slattery & Johnson last year found capacity of private dams increase 140% in the 26 years to 2020, from 574 GL to 1,395 GL. [2] 

As there was no increase in other water licences, most of the increase was presumably for floodplain water.  

“We share the committee’s concern about the proliferation of unauthorised water works over the past few decades,” Ms Mumford said. 

“We strongly support the recommendation to remove unauthorised works within six months to restore conditions to those that prevailed in 1994, or as close as possible.”  

Ms Mumford said it was disappointing the committee did not recommend measures to reduce the volume of take to move the system to a more sustainable footing. 

“We also welcome the report’s acknowledgement that floodplain harvesting has had a profound impact on the culture and traditions of First Nations peoples,” she said.   

“We agree that engagement with First Nations people has been inadequate and at times inappropriate.  

“The government must begin to engage meaningfully with Indigenous communities and increase First Nations’ inclusion in water markets.” 

REFERENCES 

[1] Floodplain Harvesting, Select Committee On Floodplain Harvesting, 15 December 2021 

[2] Floodplain water harvesting in the Northern New South Wales Murray-Darling Basin, February 2021  

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