A recent water bore application near Tamworth has raised the ire of local landholders who say WaterNSW is handing out too many new licences in an already depleted system.
A group of nine adjoining Duri landholders opposed a new irrigation bore in their area, fearing an inadequate hydrogeological study.
In October 2018, relatively new resident Barry Parton put in a stock and domestic bore. The supply was yielding about 300 gallons/hour (1363 litres/hr), so he decided to apply for an additional bore.
He approached WaterNSW with a basic landholder rights (BLR) application for stock and domestic use in mind, but also happened to ask whether he could use such a bore to water paddocks around his house.
"We just asked the question and they said, 'definitely not, we would have to apply for an irrigation licence'," Mr Parton said.
Stock and domestic bores are recognised as part of basic landholder rights in the Water Sharing Plan for the Peel Valley.
An irrigation bore - for which Mr Parton ultimately applied - must meet separate WaterNSW criteria and the application be open for objection before approval.
Nearby residents Phil and Di Sanderson and her father Stan Lee, were among those who submitted objections.
They argued that given stock and domestic bores upstream were already depleted or dried out, the basic landholder rights of the remaining nearby stock and domestic bores should be considered, and would be at risk should an irrigation bore be allowed.
"It's now going to mediation, but they are basically saying he is going to get 50 megalitres a year to irrigate out of a dry creek bed in a dryland farming area," Ms Sanderson said.
Mr Parton, formerly an irrigator, operates a beef cattle trading business, putting livestock on sorghum and other fodder crops to help turn them off in 40 to 60 days.
He said his initial objective was to find extra water for storage for his livestock, but when he found such a big body of underground water, "and no one really knows how much water is there", he decided to explore the possibility of irrigation.
Mr Parton said most of the objectors were some kilometres away, while a chicken farm, arguably one of the biggest local extractors of water and within closer proximity, hadn't responded.
"The other thing is, peoples' bores have already started to run out and we haven't started pumping yet," he said.
"When it comes down to it, the stock and domestic is the most critical for us, rather than an eight or 10 acre (3-4 hectare) circle with a little, tiny pivot in it that is going to probably use 30ML/year.
He said it wasn't in his own interest to suck the reservoir dry, because he also needed stock and domestic water for his own business.
A letter from WaterNSW representative David Thomas on November 28 advised that a hydrogeological study of the potential impacts had been undertaken by the NSW Department of Industry - Water, and a radial area of up to 1.2 kilometres from the applicant's bore was modeled.
"The resulting assessment indicates that there is a low probability that the granting of this bore will lead to groundwater depletion in the vicinity of the work," it read.
But, landholders obtained a copy of the report under a Government information public access application and argued the study had been modeled on inaccurate data.
Of the 15 existing local bores, residents said six were now dry and these were constructed into the Peel fractured rock water source aquifer - the same source from which the new bore would also draw.
WaterNSW declined to answer questions about the number of new bore applications it had approved, nor if there was enough water available for the Duri bore to go ahead.
A spokesperson said applications to install and operate a groundwater bore were assessed by WaterNSW against the relevant legislation, including the NSW Government water sharing plan.
"Applications of this type are also referred to hydrogeologists at the NSW Department of Industry for an independent assessment and evaluation, taking in to account resource availability and potential related impacts," they said.