Upstream water users taking more than their fair share have been warned of the consequences of breaching the Water Management Act 2000 by withdrawing water without having the appropriate allocation in their license.
An Enforceable Undertaking (EU) between the Natural Resources Access regulator (NRAR) and Australian Cotton Industry high achievers Peter and Caroline Tuohey was entered this week.
The Farmers were charged with overdrawing 2280 Megalitres (ML) of water from the Murrumbidgee without a relevant license.
Under the term of the Enforceable Undertaking, the landholders will now have to pay for the 2280ML of water they overdrew, surrender certain water licenses, pay $80,000 to Hay Shire Council, and compensate NRAR $100,000 in legal costs and $25,000 in investigation costs.
The Carrathool farming enterprise owners overdrew the water between October 2018 and November 2020, which included a period of severe drought.
Peter and Caroline Tuohey, who own and operate three farming properties in the Murrumbidgee farming district, hold three Water Access licenses, all of which contained a ‘zero share’ allocation to the take of water within the specified water source and management area.
The Tuohey’s property at Daisy Lodge was recognised in 2015 at the Australian Cotton Industry Awards as ‘High Achiever of the Year Award.”
The couple breached the Water Management Act by withdrawing water from the groundwater source when their Water Access Licence (WALs) had a share component of nought.
NRAR Director Graeme White said that by taking more than their allocation, the property owners had taken water from the environment at a critical time and compromised the human and non-human life that depends on the fair access to that water.
“The water was taken from the at-risk Murrumbidgee Deep Groundwater Source and represents enough water to fill more than 900 Olympic swimming pools,” he said
“A water account is like a bank account; you can’t spend it until it’s been deposited into the account.
“In this case, the license holder pumped water when they had either zero-balance available or was already in deficit.”
Mr White said that NRAR responds in a range of ways to overdrawn accounts that consider; “the degree of harm, the culpability of the offender, the public interest, and the attitude of the water user to compliance.
“Although our audits uncovered other water users who had overdrawn their accounts, the amount overdrawn here dwarfed other rule breaks,” he said.
“This was a particular concern because the water users held a ‘zero-share water access licence’, meaning they had no entitlement to take water.”
Mr White said that overdrawn water accounts are a major priority for the Natural Resources Access Regulator.
“We monitor the NSW water accounting system to determine when accounts are overdrawn and by how much.”
Mr White said that Water users can avoid overdrawing their water accounts by; making sure they have sufficient water allocation in their account before pumping and only taking water in line with their license and approval conditions.”
When Barrier Truth Contacted Peter Tuohey regarding the Enforceable Undertaking, he said that he was not yet ready to talk about the details of the case.