Northern NSW irrigators storing more water than allowed, inquiry hears

By Rodney Woods

Floodplain harvesting in northern NSW is under fire, after evidence given at a state parliamentary inquiry last Thursday found irrigators in the north are unmetered, unlicensed and hold on-farm storages in excess of 4000 Gl, well above the 210 Gl of floodplain harvesting allowed under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

A NSW parliament committee was established in February to inquire into and report on the impact and implementation of the Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemptions for Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020.

In its submission to the inquiry, Southern Riverina Irrigators maintained taking water without holding an applicable licence and similarly using water or constructing and using water management works without the applicable approval were, and continued to be, criminal offences.

“Effectively these irrigators have no licence, are unmetered and holding vast amounts of water in storages,” SRI deputy chair Darcy Hare said.

“To add insult, in some cases (water is) in storages built without the required work orders as per requirements of the basin plan and yet here in the southern basin we are metered and compliant.

“There can't be two sets of rules, one for the north and one for the south.”

Mr Hare said floodplain harvesting was seriously impacting water allocation in the south and contributing significantly to widespread economic and environmental damage.

“Billions of dollars in productivity has been lost in the south, productivity which could have been shared across thousands of irrigators and their communities, and yet the NSW Government continue to turn a blind eye and we demand an equal playing field,” he said.

“Interestingly the LNP seemed more interested in a Guardian article published 12 months ago rather than seeking clarification on key points in our SRI submission.”

NSW Regulation Committee chair Mick Veitch said after hearing the submissions, it was clear the topic had turned irrigators against each other.

“The topic has got many people agitated,” he said.

“After hearing the evidence yesterday (July 2), it clearly shows that the regulation has pitted irrigator against irrigator.”

The committee is made up of NSW Legislative Council members from the Labor, Liberal, Nationals, Greens and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers parties.

To read the SRI submission, as well other submissions, visit: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2584#tab-submissions