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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.  

Perrottet Government signs death warrant for inland rivers

Media Release  

3 February 2023 

The controversial regulation to legalise the diversion of billions of litres of water from NSW’s inland rivers with floodplain harvesting levees has been gazetted today. These are essentially the same regulations that have been previously disallowed by the Upper House a historic four times.  

Thousands of kilometers of levee banks, or water barricades, choke the floodplains of NSW Murray-Darling Basin, diverting environmentally critical flood waters and rainfall runoff into private dams.  

Nature Conservation Council (NCC) Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford says these levees starve rivers and wetlands of the critically important medium sized floods that keep the system going in between the big flood years.  

“It’s clear that the Perrottet Government is under the spell of big corporate irrigators. Why else would it ignore the fact that this disastrous regulation has been disallowed in the Upper House more than any other piece of legislation? 

“Licencing such huge volumes of floodplain harvesting water, and legislating obscenely generous rules is locking in the rapid downward spiral of the iconic Darling-Baaka River and our internationally recognised wetlands. These rules allow accounts to accrue to 500% of the licence volumes. The approach is completely unsustainable." Ms Mumford said. 

NCC supports the licencing and regulation of floodplain harvesting, however the volumes and rules proposed by the current Liberal/National Coalition are not aligned with the laws of the state. 

Ms Mumford said “The Government’s own Environment and Heritage Department has said that the proposed in-catchment targets are probably too low to protect key environmental assets in extreme dry periods, and likely do not support the water management principles of the Water Management Act 2000. 

“The environmental, cultural, social and economic future of inland NSW depends completely on the health of our rivers and wetlands. Licencing flood waters at these volumes won't allow river ecosystems to survive. They also ignore a very clear message provided to the Perrottet Coalition Government a record four times already; the community expects more than a death sentence for the rivers.  

“The Coalition is ignoring the repeated decisions of the Upper House, disregarding the democratic process. The Perrottet Government has just doomed the inland rivers. It's extremely disappointing.”  

Contact Mel Gray: 0431 471 310   

Murray Cod vanishing from the Darling-Baaka

Appalling water management is to blame for the complete eradication of the iconic Murray Cod in stretches of the Darling-Baaka River in New South Wales. 

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office Monitoring, Evaluation and Research program’s 2022 survey found not one single Murray Cod between Bourke and Louth. 

Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford says the native fish is being lost because too much water is being taken from the Murray Darling Basin. 

“While it's great to see inland rivers and wetlands full of water now, the floods are not enough to combat terrible water management decisions that have led to this disaster. 

“The Coalition Government in NSW has enacted some shocking pieces of water management legislation. Recent droughts are ignored when irrigation allocations are worked out. The gradual stroll-out of compulsory irrigation extraction meters is so overdue that it's embarrassing. 

“It's no wonder that community outrage has led to the Upper House disallowing disgraceful floodplain harvesting regulations a record 4 times - the Perrottet Government is hellbent on giving away too much water and letting our incredible fish and wildlife vanish,” said Ms Mumford. 

Before the development of inland rivers with thousands of weirs, huge public dams and industrial scale corporate irrigation, the Darling-Baaka River teemed with an amazing array of aquatic life. The territorial Murray Cod could grow to 1.8 metres in length and weigh over 10 kilograms. 

Ms Mumford says the fate of the Murray Cod is an alarming taste of what's to come for the Basin unless more water is bought back to stay in rivers. 

“The NSW Government can try all it likes to convince us that the Darling-Baaka used to regularly dry up like it did in 2019, but the disappearance of an entire species doesn't lie. The collapse of the Darling-Baaka is happening before our eyes as a result of the politics of greed.” 


Contact: Mel Gray 0431 471 310 

Water Management Killing the Darling-Baaka

25 October 2022


Water Management Killing the Darling-Baaka


New research published by the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A confirms that it is the over extraction and mismanagement of water that is causing most of the damage to the Darling-Baaka River, not climate change.[1]

NSW Nature Conservation Council calls for the Federal Water Minister to stand firm on the timelines for water recovery in the Basin Plan, and restore the voluntary, open tender water buy back process.

Quotes attributable to Jacqui Mumford, CEO of NSW Nature Conservation Council:

“Report after inquiry after scandal has proven what river communities know - that too much water is taken from the Darling-Baaka and its tributaries.”

“Only real water can restore the wetlands and aquifers of the Basin, that is the only defense the rivers have against the worsening droughts we know are coming.”

“The horror of the Menindee fish kills in 2019 shocked the world. Australia has the laws to protect rivers from these catastrophic events, we just need strong politicians to implement the laws as they were intended.”

“There is a lot of work to do in NSW before the public can have any trust in water management, where reports of large-scale water theft continue to surface.”

“The floodplain harvesting regulations proposed by the NSW government are so unacceptable to the public that they have been disallowed in the Upper House a record four times.”

“While its clear climate change is here, and droughts and floods will continue to become more extreme, it is critical that less water be taken from the rivers so they, and the people who rely on them, have a chance.”




Encouraging signs of progress on Murray Darling Basin Plan but we can’t afford further delays

In response to today’s Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MINCO) meeting hosted by the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek – Environment Victoria, NSW Conservation Council and Conservation Council SA responded:  

Jono La Nauze, CEO of Environment Victoria, said: 

“We are encouraged that Minister Plibersek has reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment to recovering the 450 GL but it is concerning that she has left the door open to further delays. Taking longer to recover environmental water increases the risk of mass fish kills and toxic algal blooms. 

“Victoria and NSW never intended to give the Murray-Darling the water it needs so they cooked up the world’s first water offset program then proceeded to sit on their hands. It appears to be little more than a delay tactic 

“It is the environment that bears the cost of delayed water recovery. We may be in El Nina now but the next drought is just around the corner. If we haven’t recovered enough water by then, the outcomes could be catastrophic for our rivers and native fish populations.” 

We further welcome the commitment to working more closely with Indigenous communities to deliver meaningful First Nations water rights and the renewed commitment to the Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program.“ 

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

“We are grateful to have a new Federal Minister who is committed to delivering the Murray Darling Basin Plan in full. We encourage her to stick to the Plan’s deadlines. 

“If NSW hadn’t delivered the goods after a decade, they were never going to. 

“It’s time to drop the fanciful engineering projects that were designed to fail, and buy back actual water for the rivers. 

“Too much time has already been wasted. The next drought is getting closer every day, and only real water will help rivers and wetlands survive. 

“We all need the rivers and wetlands of the Basin to be healthy, including the irrigation industry.” 

Craig Wilkins, Chief Executive, Conservation Council of SA, said: 

“We are coming to the pointy end of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and there is a huge amount left to be done. 

“South Australians are genuinely concerned the bottom end of the River will again be dudded by delays and a lack of commitment by all Basin states to the 2024 deadline. 

“We strongly welcome Minister Plibersek’s commitment to keep all options on the table to deliver real water to the river in line with the original plan, including voluntary buybacks, to make up the difference if the other parts of the plan fall short. 

“We also applaud the crystal clear position of the SA Government and Water Minister Susan Close, and her withdrawal of support for the controversial 2018 ‘socio-economic test’ that has made it much harder for all states to deliver efficiency and constraints management projects.” 

Government’s answer to Floodplain Harvesting report bitter pill for the Darling-Baaka River

The Water Minister Kevin Anderson has today confirmed, with its release of a response to the Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry Report, that the Government is intent on continuing to ignore community outcry.

“In recent years we have seen horrific fish kills and rapidly shrinking Ramsar wetlands, in part because too much water has been taken from floodplains,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Everyone agrees that floodplain harvesting must be licenced and reduced, but the way the NSW government wants to do it runs the risk of locking in ecological collapse.” 

Despite the widespread concerns of the community in the Basin, the Minister has made no concessions to the needs of the environment, First Nations and water users downstream.

“The deal that the government is offering the community in terms of flow targets would be just enough to keep a few puddles wet in the bottom of the river after a drought. The river needs enough water so it can support aquatic life, and a few puddles can’t do that,” Mr. Gambian said.

Under the current proposed licencing regime, there would be no reduction of floodplain harvesting in the Macquarie Valley upstream of the Macquarie Marshes.

“How is the NSW government reconciling their legal responsibility to protect the iconic Ramsar listed Macquarie Marshes with their plans to licence all of the existing floodplain harvesting diversions in this catchment?” 

In their report the government admits that the current level of floodplain harvesting diversions is harming the environment and negatively impacting communities and water users downstream.

“Despite knowing the impacts, the government are willing to licence large volumes of floodplain harvesting before ensuring that the water being taken can be accurately measured. That shifts a massive amount of water away from the environment and communities to big irrigation agribusiness.”

Labor revives the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to revive rivers

JOINT STATEMENT: Nature Conservation Council of NSW | Environment Victoria | Conservation South Australia

State conservation councils today congratulated Labor on its five-point plan to revive the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, saying it was a refreshing change after years of the Coalition seeking to undermine and destroy the plan.

"Labor's announcement and five-point plan is an important step towards putting the vitally important Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on track and restoring integrity to water management,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

"It’s so refreshing to see steps towards reviving our rivers after years of the Coalition undermining and destroying the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the benefit of a handful of big irrigation concerns. 

“The commitment to deliver 450 gigalitres of water is vital if we are to meet the targets of the plan, which, according to the science, is a bare minimum needed to save rivers, wetlands and sustain river communities. 

“Re-establishing the National Water Commission, publishing data and modelling, investing in science, and increasing compliance funding are all vital to restoring public confidence in water management after years of scandal and secrecy.  

“The commitment to increase First Nations' water ownership is long overdue and would rectify a broken promise made by the current government and deliver some justice for historical wrongs. 

“The review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will occur over the next term of federal government. Today, Labor signalled it has a holistic vision for a healthy river system." 

Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze said: “The public needs to know whether the Coalition’s water policy will continue to be dominated by the National Party whose track record has been to undermine the integrity of the plan at every opportunity, leaving a stench of mismanagement and corruption. 

“Australians who care about the health of our rivers are saying 'bravo' today, as Labor takes an important first step towards reviving our rivers and river communities."

Taxpayers fork out for most expensive water ever

The Federal Government today committed Australian taxpayers to effectively pay a record $20,000 per megalitre to recover water in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. [1] 

Federal Environment Minister Keith Pitt has announced the government will allocate $126 million for water efficiency infrastructure to recover possibly just 7.4 gigalitres of water, with only 6.3 gigalitres to be returned to the environment 

“That means every megalitre of water saved will cost taxpayers $20,076,” Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said. 

“That’s almost eight times the most recent price paid for the permanent trade of general security access to water on the open market in the Murrumbidgee. [2] By some estimates, this is the most expensive water yet in Murray-Darling River system. 

“It’s a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money. There are far cheaper and more effective ways to meet the targets of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.   

“If all water cost this much, the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin fund would only buy 647.5 GL, about 20 per cent the 3,200 gigalitres required to be recovered under the Basin Plan. 

“And where is the government’s cost-benefit analysis to show value for money? Or how about its water recovery calculations? 

“Water buy-backs are a far cheaper way to achieve the same result, and the result is more certain than forecast gains from water efficiency measures, which are highly uncertain.” [3] 

Ms Mumford asked why the Morrison Government was giving irrigators 1,100 megalitres under this arrangement, rather than returning that water to the environment to restore natural river flows. 

“With climate change making less water available, such large sums should be used to diversify regional economies rather than subsidise already planned works of private irrigation schemes,” Ms Mumford said 

“Reports show that each dollar spent on human services like hospitals and schools creates four times as many jobs as spending on infrastructure upgrades.”  [4] 


[1] Murrumbidgee Irrigation says $126 million grant will allow it halve its water losses, ABC, 18-1-21.  

[2] See Key Water, Last Trades.  

[3] On the permanent trade market, it would cost $2,450/ML to by water access on the Murrumbidgee. See Key Water, Last Trades. 

[4] Modelling variants of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the context of adverse conditions in the Basin, Glyn Wittwer Centre of Policy Studies, Victoria University, March 2020. 


Labor and the crossbenchers key to overturning reckless floodplain water regulations

Labor and the crossbenchers should disallow the ecologically unsustainable and socially inequitable floodplain harvesting regulations that outgoing Water Minister Melinda Pavey rushed through last Friday. [1]   

“These rotten regulations, virtually Ms Pavey’s last act as Water Minister, will leave a wretched legacy if they are allowed to stand,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said. 

“Ms Pavey promised to listen to river communities and to carefully consider the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into floodplain harvesting. She did neither. 

“The regulations gazetted on Friday are virtually identical to those rejected twice by the parliament already this year. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. They must not stand. 

“We call on Labor and the crossbenchers to stay true to the principles of ecological sustainability and social justice to which they referred when they disallowed the regulations twice before. 

“The government doesn’t even know how much water is being taken and what effect that level of unauthorised take is having on downstream users and the environment.  

“But rather than wait and use the most up-to-date data, the government has recklessly rushed to issue billions of litres of new water licences that benefit a very small number of landholders.” 

What is floodplain harvesting?