NSW aims to address illegal flood works

The 2018 South Australian Royal Commission described floodplain harvesting as “one of the most significant threats to water security in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin to both licence holders and downstream states”.

Yet cracking down on alleged water theft, putting in place harsher sentences, and putting solutions in place on flood works has certainly been less than swift.

The Water Management Act was delivered in 2000 and 10 years later, by 2010, the NSW government were still working out how to deliver it.

In 2010 it was announced floodplain management plans were being developed for rural floodplains as part of the transition from the floodplain management provisions of the Water Act 1912 (Water Act) to the Water Management Act 2000 (WM Act).

It was also reported in 2010 that the first floodplain management plans to be developed under the WM Act would be for five valleys in the northern Murray–Darling Basin: the Barwon–Darling, Gwydir, Border Rivers, Macquarie and Namoi (Upper and Lower) valleys.

The NSW Government is now reporting that they are leading the charge in returning water to floodplains, wetlands, rivers and creeks by bringing unapproved flood works into compliance across the northern Basin.

Darling River Station Owner Rob McBride said, “for a long period, these (water) thieves have had their influence on the government abroken hill

nd sustainable irrigators and farmers have had to carry the burden of their actions”.

Executive Director of Water Planning for the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Giselle Howard, said “the program will look at 42 structures across 13 priority areas in the Border Rivers in this first round.”

Some of these structures are up to 30 years old, according to Ms Howard.

“We’re committed to licensing and regulating floodplain harvesting and we’re serious about ensuring unapproved flood works become compliant,” Ms Howard said.

Mr McBride explained that in the past, the illegal harvesting of floodplain water has, if addressed at all, only received fines in the thousands when, he says, agribusiness was making millions from the same water.

“Until the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) starts issuing $20,000,000 fines and reclaiming land, these thefts will continue.”

Ms Howard said the new plans would mean improved flows over floodplains and connectivity, resulting in a healthier natural environment and better outcomes for downstream water users.

“When it comes to floodplain management, we’re full steam ahead to deliver outcomes that are decades overdue. This is an accelerated program that will allow us to achieve by 2024 what would have taken more than 15 years to realise.”

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