STATE government will splash $23 million from next week’s budget into its new water compliance regime as it continues its campaign to repair and rebuild trust on irrigation issues.
The announcement by Regional Water Minister Niall Blair and Treasurer Dominic Perrotett comes a day after proposed rules for irrigators were revealed in parliament, including mandatory metering and a single public register for licences, entitlements, allocations, approvals and use.
The 2018-19 Budget commitment of $23m over two years will see the state’s new water monitor – the Natural Resources Access Regulator – deliver more boots-on-the-ground officer to make sure everyone is doing the right thing.
Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair said Ken Matthews’ independent review last year was ‘a wake-up call’ for water management in NSW, following allegations of water theft and poor compliance in the wake of the ABC’s Four Corners Pumped investigation.
Mr Blair said the improved regime would also see a robust metering framework, as well as pilot technologies to enhance compliance activities, and improve the protection of environmental water down the rivesr.
“We know we had a lot of work to do to rebuild public trust and restore confidence in water management across this state. This Budget investment means we can continue to deliver on our commitments and provide a fair and equitable system for all,” Mr Blair said.
The NSW State Budget will be handed down on Tuesday June 19.
Proposed irrigator rules hit parliament
NSW irrigators and water users were given a glimpse at changes afoot in compliance, monitoring, and punishment this week with the introduction of the Water Management Amendment Bill 2018 – including flipping the onus of proof on water taken under their basic land holder rights.
Crucially, the proposed rules include huge new fines for people caught doing the wrong thing – including boosted tier one penalties for corporations from $2.2 million to $5 million, and tier two penalties from $1.1m to $2m.
Individuals charged with a tier two offence would face a $500,500 fine, up from $247,500.
Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said under the bill, holders of water supply work approvals will be required to install, use and maintain water meters unless they are exempt by regulation.
These regulations will be subject to consultation in the second half of 2018.
The regulations will also set the standards and requirements the meters must meet, including installation and maintenance, and for the protocol that must be followed in the event of a meter failure.
The Bill also allows for metering conditions to be included on water access licences as well as licences still in force under the Water Act 1912.
There will be punishments for failing to install, use or maintain a meter, providing false or misleading information and failing to notify when the meter is faulty.
The bill includes a new rebuttable presumption.
Mr Blair said the presumption will operate to assist in prosecutions for illegal water take where a licence holder takes water under both a licence and a basic landholder right.
Licence holders will need to show how much water was taken under their basic land holder rights instead of the regulator having to prove that the take was not basic landholder rights.
“This commonsense approach will not impact on people legitimately taking water under their basic landholder rights but it is necessary to stop people from flouting the law,” he said.
“This provision will not commence until the metering framework has been further discussed and implemented.”
More to come