Floodwater policy slammed

By Country News

The NSW Government’s strategy to manage irrigators’ use of floodwater has been slammed in a joint submission by researchers, irrigators, graziers and a Darling River community group.

The group, which includes the Southern Riverina Irrigators and think tank The Australia Institute, has called on the NSW Government to withdraw its draft strategy as it fails to address the problem of massive volumes of water being diverted into private storages.

Southern Riverina Irrigator’s Darcy Hare said he was ‘‘aghast’’ at the draft strategy.

‘‘In the southern Riverina every drop of water is measured with up-to-date technology and our members are committed to irrigation that is transparent, accountable and sustainable,’’ Mr Hare said.

‘‘The contrast with this proposal could not be more stark. The floodplain harvesting strategy needs a major rewrite to protect the wider reputation of the irrigation industry.’’

The Australia Institute’s senior water researcher Maryanne Slattery has accused the strategy of allowing water to be measured with ‘‘medieval technology’’.

‘‘Despite the $13billion taxpayer dollars put towards the basin plan, the NSW Government strategy for monitoring huge volumes of water is for self-reporting by irrigators using gauge boards which are little more than glorified rulers or dipsticks,’’ she said.

The group said non-compliance and over-extraction of water from the floodplain would have a high impact on downstream irrigators through lost economic production, floodplain graziers through lost economic production, downstream communities that rely on irrigation or floodplain grazing, the inland recreational fishing economy and environmental outcomes.

‘‘The draft strategy is little more than a veneer of proper process over the unjustified and unlawful licensing of increased extractions in the northern basin,’’ they said in their submission.

A NSW Department of Industry spokesperson said the policy would help address unconstrained floodplain harvesting above statutory limits, which have been in place since 1995, and was satisfied the policy complied with the relevant laws.

‘‘Implementation of the policy will function to restrict floodplain harvesting so that it returns back to 1995 limits — improving not reducing flows for downstream users and the environment,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘To improve stakeholder confidence in the implementation of the policy, NSW and Murray-Darling Basin Authority have jointly commissioned an independent peer review process that is looking at both technical and policy-related elements of implementation.

‘‘All stakeholders have had the opportunity to raise concerns directly with the independent reviewers as part of this process.

‘‘These independent peer review findings will be released in the middle of the year.’’