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NSW Government takes water from coastal wetlands and gives to big agribusiness

The NSW Government today gave big agribusiness companies east of the Great Dividing Range rights to billions of litres of publicly owned water, absolutely free. 

The Harvestable Rights (coastal-draining catchments) Order 2022 issued under the Water Management Act 2000 gives landholders the right to harvest 30% of all rainfall runoff on their property (see Section 6a of the Order). [1] 

“This government has just put another nail in the coffin of coastal wetlands that are already facing a host of threats — coastal development, water pollution, climate change, including bushfire and rising sea levels,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“We will do everything we can to have this decision reversed to prevent the serious and lasting damage it could do to coastal wetlands, which are among the most important biodiversity hotspots in NSW. 

“This Order transfers millions of dollars’ of publicly owned water straight into private hands for free. 

“It is probably the single most harmful policy ever instituted against the health of coastal river ecosystems and wetlands. We can’t let this stand. 

“It is extraordinary the government announced this policy the same day researchers warned the world has lost 2000 square kilometres of coastal wetlands over the past 20 years. [2]  

“The situation for NSW wetlands is dire. All the key indicators are heading in the wrong direction. There are fewer wetlands and they are smaller than just a few years ago, waterbird numbers have crashed. 

“The Coalition government in NSW seems determined to destroy coastal river systems the same way they have the Barwon-Darling River system.” 

The NSW State of the Environment 2021 report stated:  

“Water availability is the most significant pressure on the health of many wetland ecosystems. Altered flows from water extraction and the building of dams, levees and diversion structures have had long-term and ongoing negative effects on water availability, especially for important waterbird breeding sites…” [3] 

Today’s Order allows landholders to build dams as close as 3100m upstream from internationally listed Ramsar wetlands. 


[1] See attached. 

[2] Dramatic loss of globe’s wetlands, James Cook University, Embargoed until 4am AEST, Friday 13 May, 2022,  

[3] Wetland area index of eastern Australia 104,015 hectares in 2020, below the long-term median of 224,794 ha. 



Media Advisor James Tremain | 0419 272 254 

Water Campaigner Mel Gray | 0431 471 310 

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