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Basin Plan delay risks ‘devastating consequences’ for rivers as dry spell looms

Peak conservation groups across south-eastern Australia are urging the federal government to stand firm on their commitment to return water to the Murray-Darling river system, warning delaying the Basin Plan would risk terrible damage to the environment during the next drought.

Environment Victoria, NSW Conservation Council, Conservation Council of SA and Queensland Conservation Council have today warned that advice from the Murray Darling Basin Authority that the 2024 deadline for the implementation of the Basin Plan will not be met puts the health of our river systems at increased risk.

Conservation Council of SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins said:

“With the UN declaring an El Nino and Australia facing a dry spell, right now is the worst possible time to deprive wetlands and wildlife of the water they will need to survive tough times ahead.

“The 450 gigalitres of water that the Albanese Government promised for the environment before the election must be delivered as soon as possible. We are pleased that Minister Plibersek has today committed to delivering that required water.

“We are calling on the SA Government to stand firm, and insist on iron clad guarantees the promised water will be delivered.

“We’ve already had more than ten years of delays delivering this water promised for the environment. And look at the result – the Darling-Baaka running dry, millions of dead fish, and toxic blackwater events because small and medium floods haven’t been able to flush out the landscape.”

NSW Nature Conservation Council CEO Jacqui Mumford said: 

“When we are seeing large-scale fish kills even in wet years, it should send alarm signals about what we might see in future dry years.

“Entire communities have run out of water and ecosystems are collapsing, with native fish populations have declined by 90%, and even once common birds like the Pink Cockatoo being at risk of extinction.

“The river system is still sick, despite the recent rains, and if we don’t restore more natural flows we’re putting it at risk of ecological collapse when water becomes more scarce.”

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said:

“That 450 gigalitres of water mandated for the environment could be an essential lifeline during the dry spell to come. It needs to be recovered as quickly as possible using voluntary water purchases.

“We also need to remove barriers currently stopping this water from reaching the wetlands and floodplains where it is needed most. State governments have stalled progress on this for too long. The Australian Government should appoint an independent panel of experts to find a workable pathway to relax these constraints – which must involve incentives and assurances to gain access from private landholders.

“The Albanese Government also needs to hold a hard line  on  ‘engineering’  environmental ‘offset’ projects that are either unproven or proven to not work.  In Victoria, the Andrews government has had a decade to deliver these projects and don’t deserve any more time. We should stick to the agreement and strike out any projects that are not up and running by mid next year.”

Queensland Conservation Council Water Policy Officer Nigel Parratt said:

“The environment is yet to receive the benefit of these projects. As MBDA CEO Andrew McConville said last year, ‘The credit has been banked, but the payment still needs to be delivered.’

“Finally, nothing should be allowed to delay the 2026 Basin Plan review – the Australian public deserves a thorough, timely assessment of whether this $13 billion dollar plan has been restoring the environment as promised.”

High time NSW stepped up to protect our inland rivers, says state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation.

photo: Henry Gold

17th July 2023.  

The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today blasted the concerted misinformation campaign being spread by corporate irrigators about the proposal to purchase water for the environment from the many willing sellers across NSW.  

“The Murray Darling Basin Plan was designed to address the overallocation of water, and yet we keep hearing fairytale stories that amount to ‘more dams will magically create more water’”, NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford said today.  

“With the Murray Darling Basin Council (MINCO) meeting expected at the start of August, it’s time for NSW Government to step up and support the Commonwealth purchasing water from willing sellers” she said.  

It is a constitutional requirement that state governments agree to the federal government purchasing water.  

“We are calling for assurances from the NSW Government that they will fulfil their election promise by supporting the only viable way to deliver on the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which is to purchase water from the many willing sellers across NSW. 

“It’s critical that we stop relying on ‘engineering’ solutions that are either unproven or proven to not work” Mumford continued.  

“Any further delay to water purchases only benefits water barons and large corporate irrigators, who profit from being allowed to continue to suck up water earmarked for the environment.” 

Statements attributable to NCC Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford:  

“The previous NSW Government undermined the Murray Darling Basin Plan wherever they could. We’ve been delighted to hear NSW Water Minister Rose Jackson reaffirm her election commitment to implement the Murray Darling Basin Plan in full.  

“However, Federal Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek flagged ‘tough negotiations are underway' with the states.  

"As we enter another period of drought it’s critical that this water is delivered on time, as further delays will devastate people and the environment.  

“We need to recognise the scale of the problem we are facing."

"Entire communities have run out of water, and ecosystems are collapsing before our eyes. The Murray-Darling Basin has 90 per cent less native fish than 150 years ago” 


Statement ends 

Media contact: Clancy Barnard 

E: [email protected]  Ph: 0438 869 332 

Note: NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford is available for comment on request  

NSW metering policy not holding water: plans to meter all water pumping in NSW float away as deadline once again not met

1st June 2023 

NSW metering policy not holding water: plans to meter all water pumping in NSW float away as deadline once again not met 

As the June 1 deadline arrives, the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, wishes to highlight that NSW irrigation metering reforms have again failed to be implemented.  

The mandatory date for irrigators in the Murray and Murrumbidgee to have compliant metering equipment installed is June 1st, extended from January because of the impact of the floods.  

According to Board notes from the Natural Resource Access Regulator (NRAR) there is a ‘widening gap between policy aspiration and program implementation1. 

“This basically means that the regulator is saying that despite all the delays, they have been unwilling or unable to secure even the most basic oversight into how much water is being sucked from our rivers by corporate irrigators.” Mel Gray, Water Campaigner with NCC said today 

"How can we expect to sustainably and fairly manage our water resources when we can’t even get irrigators to measure how much water they are taking” Gray Continued.   

Adding to concerns about the adequacy of legislation to protect rivers from over extraction and water theft, the Inspector General of Water Compliance Troy Grant said in Senate Estimates last Friday that the legislation was rubbish, that it had so many loopholes that an irrigator "would have to be a moron" to get caught stealing water.  

Grant said his investigations team currently has 21 open investigations, and since February they have closed 62 investigations. “The reason they’ve closed is that the legislation is rubbish” he said. 

Statements attributable to NCC Water Campaigner Mel Gray: 

“The sad thing is that this is consistent with what we've seen across NSW. The deadline for metering the largest pumps in the Northern Basin was 18 months ago, and about 30% of pumps in that category still don’t have compliant metering and telemetry installed.” 

“There are already too many loopholes in NSW’s metering policy. For example, pumps under 100mm diameter not required to have metering fitted at all, regardless of how many pumps are installed in a given water source.”  

“We are also deeply concerned by the Department’s ‘review of the underlying regulation to alleviate constraints’ which may indicate they are considering weakening the standards to allow irrigators to use telemetry equipment (devices that send real time data to the department) that isn't accredited.”

“The underlying problem with water management in NSW is that the Department don’t accept their duty under the law to prioritise the environment, as identified by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2020.”2   

“We welcome the initial steps the new Minister for Water Rose Jackson has taken, but it looks like there is still a culture of prioritising industry over the environment and downstream communities throughout the Department, and it is important this is dealt with.” 


2: Investigation into complaints of corruption in the management of water in NSW and systemic non-compliance with the Water Management Act 2000 page 21 


Statement ends 

Media contact: Clancy Barnard 

E: [email protected]  Ph: 0438 869 332 

Note: NCC Water Campaigner Mel Gray is available for comment on request 

Dams don’t make water, they kill rivers and downstream communities

13th May 2023 

Dams don’t make water, they kill rivers and downstream communities 

The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state's leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today criticised the misinformation being spread by members of the northern NSW agricultural elite, and members of federal and state of parliament, in relation to the cancelled Dungowan Dam project. 

“Dungowan Dam would have done nothing to address Tamworth's drinking water issues and would have had a devastating impact on downstream communities”, NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford today. 

“The productivity commission called the dam ‘a case study in flawed decision making’ and NSW Minister for Water Rose Jackson made clear that Infrastructure Australia, Infrastructure NSW, and several other NSW Government agencies have suggested the project not proceed.” Mumford continued.  

“This mentality we see from certain sections of the agricultural industry that the solution to any water issue in inland Australia is to build a massive dam, and if you are downstream then too bad, is outdated and has to stop. 

“Dams don’t make water, they just kill rivers and hurt downstream communities.” 

“In Europe and the United States they are tearing down dams and investing in smart new technologies, including managed aquifer recharge and water purification.” 

Tamworth Regional Council is looking into a water purification plant that would provide thirsty abattoirs with a new water source, freeing up valuable drinking water for the community. 

“The solutions to water scarcity in the Peel catchment are simple. Purifying water for use in local meat works will do more for Tamworth’s future than digging a hole and praying for rain” said Mumford.  

We also need to change the laws to stop overextraction, purchase more water, and invest in regional communities. That way, enough water will flow through the Murray Darling Basin to provide clean drinking water to every town, to rivers that inland Australians can enjoy, and ensure our precious plants and animals don't go extinct.   

Statement ends 

Media contact: Clancy Barnard 

E: [email protected]  Ph: 0438 869 332 

Note: NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford is available for comment on request 

Federal budget fails to deliver urgently needed Murray-Darling recovery funding


May 10th, 2023

The Albanese Government has committed $146.8m in this budget towards their election promise to complete the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but failed to commit the funds needed to deliver on the final 450 gigalitres (GL) of water for the environment.

Australia’s peak conservation groups covering every basin state have warned more funding will be needed to reach Basin Plan targets and restore our rivers to health after a decade of delay.

Environment Victoria, Nature Conservation Council NSW, Queensland Conservation Council and the Conservation Council of SA said the Albanese Government has clear election commitments to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full - but this budget doesn't include the additional funding needed for water recovery.

Tyler Rotche, Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers Campaigner said:

“The rivers and wetlands of the Basin can’t wait.”

“Under the Coalition, we lost years and billions of dollars on bloated handouts and dodgy offset schemes. Now water’s more expensive — the Albanese government needs to allocate more money for water recovery.”

“The Albanese government has some leftover funding. The bulk of the $1.575 billion to recover 450 billion litres went unspent while the Murray-Darling faced mass fish kills and toxic blackwater events.”

“The government needs to get the most water for the funds already set aside. Purchasing water from willing sellers is the most reliable option. It’s by far the most straightforward, aboveboard and cost-effective method on the table.”

Craig Wilkins, Conservation Council of SA Chief Executive said:

“Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek has so far shown genuine commitment to deliver more water under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.”

“But this budget hasn’t committed the additional funding required to return the system to health.”  

“As a nation, we won’t be able to do what is required to improve the health of Australia’s greatest river system without the federal government entering the market to purchase water from willing sellers.”

Jacqui Mumford, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council NSW said:

“While the decision not to fund the dud Dungowan Dam near Tamworth is applauded, the money saved should have been repurposed for water purchases.  Funding is critical if we are going to save the Murray Darling Basin.”

“Entire communities have run out of water, ecosystems are collapsing, native fish populations have declined by 90%, and even once common birds like the pink cockatoo are at risk of extinction.” 

“The solution is simple. We need stronger laws to stop over-extraction, purchase more environmental water, and invest in regional communities.”

Nigel Parratt, Water Policy Officer for the Queensland Conservation Council said:

“Today's program funding is needed but the fact that there is no money for water purchases means the job of repairing the damage from years of neglect is going to get harder.” 

“The previous government's lack of action pushed species to the brink of extinction and damaged many regional communities. We don't want to see this happen again.”

NCC welcomes court decision on water theft, calls for stronger sentencing in the future


30th March 2023 


NCC welcomes court decision on water theft, calls for stronger sentencing in the future 

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC), the states peak body for climate and environment, has today welcomed the finding of criminal liability for Brewarrina irrigators Peter and Jane Harris.  

At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday the Land and Environment Court upheld the finding of criminally liable for stealing over two billion liters of water in 2016 .  

The perpetrators were fined $60,000 and ordered to pay around half a million dollars in costs incurred by WaterNSW in bringing the case.  

NCC Water Campaigner Melissa Gray welcomed the decision, which she noted will have implications for a number of cases currently awaiting trial.  

“What this case has done is shown the rogue operators that if you illegally steal water, you will be held accountable. There was a lot of concern that the burden of evidence would be too high, so this is great outcome in terms of making it clear to those rogue operators who think they can steal water that this will no longer be accepted in NSW.” 

“Most irrigators do want to do the right thing, but the outliers who have been prepared to steal water have done so at eyewatering scale. It has taken a mountain of work by locals, community groups and environmental organisations to bring these cases of large scale water theft to light.” 

Gray also expressed concern at the scale of the fine.  

“A $60,000 fine between both of the offenders is woefully inadequate when compared to the impact that the theft of that much water has on communities and the downstream environment.  

“Penalties for significant water should be large enough to be a deterrent, and include loss of water access license.” 

“The concern I have is that some irrigators will see this potential fine as just the cost of doing business, especially when the likely profits from outweigh these fines”.  

“It’s great to see Premier Chris Minns has already visited the far west and shows the people that improving the health of the Murray Darlin Basin is a priority of his government.  

After 12 years of neglect, it’s time to get serious about water theft” 



Media contact –  

Clancy Barnard 

E: [email protected] 




Minns Menindee Visit - Murray Darling Basin a top priority

29 March 2023


The Nature Conservation Council has applauded Premier Chris Minns’s decision to visit Menindee on his first day as Premier of New South Wales.


Premier Minns will travel to the far west of the state to see first hand the latest mass fish kill in the Lower Darling-Baaka River.


“After years of shameless political neglect, the Minns visit is finally a step in the right direction for the struggling Murray Darling Basin,” said NCC Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford.


“His ‘listening tour’ won't magically fix all the problems associated with reduced water flows and degraded water quality right across the Basin. But it does indicate that reviving the once mighty Murray Darling river system will be a priority for the new government.”


“Labor’s pledge to implement the Murray Darling Basin Plan in full will give the waterways a fighting chance to cope with the next drought - which we all know is on its way.


“Premier Minns will see first hand today that the entire network of rivers and waterways must be managed as a connected whole - that’s our only chance to rebuild native fish populations and reinstate a healthy aquatic system,” said Jacqui Mumford



Media Contact: Clancy Barnard

[email protected]


NSW Online Water Forum

14 March 2023

With less than a fortnight to go until the state election, leading water experts, traditional owners, MPs and candidates will take part in this evening’s NSW Online Water Forum to discuss the future of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

After years of political compromises and inaction, the Forum will demand that the next government of New South Wales commit to delivering the Basin Plan in full and on time.

Hosted by Nature Conservation Council NSW, join us online to hear from -

  • Aunty Polly Cutmore Gamilaraay Traditional Owner
  • Aunty Judith Duke Gamilaraay Elder
  • Aunty Marlene Weribone Gamilaraay Elder
  • Tony Windsor Former Independent Member for New England
  • Professor Richard Kingsford Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science UNSW
  • Professor Stuart Khan School of Civil & Environmental Engineering UNSW
  • Elizabeth Farrelly Independent candidate for the NSW Upper House
  • Cate Faehrmann MLC NSW Greens MP and spokesperson for water
  • Rose Jackson MLC NSW Labor Shadow Water Minister

What: NSW Online Water Forum
When: 6.30 - 8.00pm Tuesday 14 March 2023
Where: Online via Zoom

RSVP: to receive the zoom link, please go to


This event will be streamed over hundreds of sovereign First Nations Countries of this Nation.
Voice - Treaty - Truth
Authorised by Jacqui Mumford, Level 1, 79 Myrtle Street, Chippendale, NSW, 2008

Water purchases key to delivering Murray Darling Basin Plan promises

With the deadline of June 2024 fast approaching, environment groups encourage Minister Plibersek to stand up to NSW and Victoria by purchasing water as the only cost-effective, practical way to return water to rivers.

Ahead of a meeting of Murray-Darling Basin water ministers today, Environment Victoria, Conservation Council of South Australia, NSW Nature Conservation Council and Queensland Conservation Council are urging Tanya Plibersek to remain steadfast in delivering the Basin Plan’s water commitments by the current deadlines. 

Tyler Rotche, Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers campaigner, said:

“Until now, Victoria and NSW have joined the federal Nationals to block progress on delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. 

“Instead of purchasing water, they’ve proposed dodgy alternatives that don’t work, and the river suffers as a result.

“We've known for a decade that the most reliable way to get water for rivers is purchasing it from irrigators who want to sell. The reason it's not happening is recalcitrance led by the Victorian government in lockstep with the Nationals.

“It’s time for the federal government to call out this farce and for Victoria and NSW to step up and cooperate. State water ministers just need to follow the Federal Minister's lead and get on with the job.”

Jacqui Mumford, CEO of NSW Nature Conservation Council, said:

“The NSW Nationals Water Minister wants to keep gaslighting and sidestepping the Government’s obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“He is recklessly pushing for even longer extensions of time for worthless projects that won’t return water to the river system.

“For rivers and wetlands to flourish, there is simply no substitute for water. The most effective way to boost water flows is through voluntary open tender water purchases.

“Basin rivers cannot afford any more delays to water recovery – the next drought is getting closer every day.

“Voters will punish the Perrottet Government at the coming election if it continues to stand in the way of a healthy and sustainable Murray-Darling Basin.”

Craig Wilkins, CE of the Conservation Council SA, said: 

“Friday’s meeting is critical for ensuring water essential for the river’s health is delivered on time as promised.

“For years, upstream states have twisted and turned and done everything possible to delay water return. This game playing must be called out and stopped.

“We know the cheapest, simplest and most direct way to deliver water essential for a healthy river is through voluntary water purchases. 

“We urge all Water Ministers to work together to ensure water purchases are on the table.”

Queensland Conservation Council Water Policy Officer Nigel Parratt said:

“With the deadline for the Basin Plan to be implemented rapidly approaching, it’s essential that the Australian and Basin State Governments work together to meet the shortfall of water that must be recovered for the environment.

“Any delays in fully delivering the Basin Plan will be an absolute disaster for rivers, wetlands and communities across the Murray-Darling Basin.”

NSW still holding the Murray Darling Basin Plan back

Media Release  

February 14, 2023 

The Murray Darling Basin Authority has released a six-monthly report card on the progress of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, highlighting yet again that when it comes to the Basin Plan, NSW continues to have the hand brake on.  

The law requires all Water Resource Plans to have been approved by July 2019, yet NSW have only today resubmitted the critical documents. It is yet to be seen if these overdue NSW Water Resource Plans are sound enough to be accredited. 

Nature Conservation Council (NCC) Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford says NSW had since 2012 to get twenty Water Resource Plans written by the 2019 deadline, but has dragged its feet while still taking the lion’s share of water from the Basin. 

“We’ve seen successive NSW Coalition Water Ministers duck and weave, avoiding their responsibilities to the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin, and are now almost four years late with their homework," said Ms Mumford.  

“For almost four years, there has been no way for the Commonwealth to determine if water extraction in NSW is over the legal limits.  

“NSW has the biggest contribution to make to the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, because we’ve been the biggest water users. The enormous wealth created for a privileged few by excessive water take has come at huge cost to First Nations communities and the environment.  

“The balance between industry and the environment when it comes to water sharing has been heavily skewed to favor industry for over a hundred years. Clawing back some water for the health of the rivers under the Basin Plan still falls a long way short of that elusive concept of balance.” said Ms Mumford. 

NCC is extremely concerned that NSW is actively working against the principles of the Basin Plan by issuing an environmentally unsustainable volume of floodplain harvesting entitlements.  

“NSW is driving water management backwards – instead of working with the Commonwealth and other states to return water to inland rivers, it’s handing out billions of litres of brand-new water entitlements to privileged floodplain harvesting irrigation corporations” said Ms Mumford.