Largest prosecution yet by NSW water regulator

Moree company faces 43 charges over alleged water theft

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A Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) car during a site inspection.

A Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) car during a site inspection.

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'Unlawful dam built as part of water theft': regulator alleges

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A Moree company is facing 43 charges - one of the biggest water theft prosecutions yet - of illegally taking water from the Gwydir River over a two-year period.

The NSW water regulator alleges the company built an illegal dam to siphon some of the illegal water into. The alleged offences occurred between February 2016 and July 2018.

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has commenced a prosecution against a Moree irrigation company with a record 43 charges against the Water Management Act 2000 (WM Act) for allegedly taking water while metering equipment wasn't operating properly.

Kirsty Ruddock, NRAR's Director Water Enforcement Taskforce, said the alleged offences took place between February 2016 and July 2018. She said the regulator will hold those who willfully breach the state's water laws to account.

"While the majority of water users want to do the right thing, there are a minority who willfully and recklessly disregard the state's water laws," Ms Ruddock said.

"Taking water unlawfully is not worth the risk. We have officers on the ground across the state and we use innovative technology including satellite imagery and drones to ensure we have a robust understanding of how water is being used across NSW."

With such resources it was almost impossible now to get away with water theft, she said.

The regulator alleges the company took water while metering equipment was not operating properly, constructed and took water through an unlawful dam, and took water in excess of its water allocation.

The NRAR said the summary of the charges were:

Thirty-nine of the charges fall under section 91I(1) of the WM Act and relate to allegedly taking water from the Gwydir River while metering equipment was not operating properly between September 2016 and February 2018.

The company also faces two charges under section 91B(1) of the WM Act:

The first for allegedly constructing an unlawful dam without holding an approval, between February and March 2016.

The second for allegedly using the unlawful dam without holding an approval, between July 2016 and June 2018.

The company faces one charge under section 60C(8) of the WM Act for allegedly taking water from the Gwydir River in excess of combined water allocation for access licences, between July 2017 and June 2018. NRAR alleges the company took at least 600 megalitres of water in excess of its licence allocation.

Additionally, the company has been charged with one count under section 60A(4) of the WM Act for allegedly taking water from the Gwydir River in breach of its licence conditions, between July 2016 and June 2017. NRAR alleges the company took 1,200 megalitres of water in excess of its licence allocation.

If found guilty of section 91I(1), the company faces the highest penalty of up to $2,000,200 for each offence. For the remaining offences, the company faces the maximum penalty of $1,000,100.

The matter is listed before the Land and Environment Court on 11 June 2021.

Also the NRAR has launched prosecution againt two Griffith irrigators. The alleged offences took place between July 2017 and June 2020.

NRAR issued one individual with four charges under section 91G(2) of the WM Act for allegedly breaching two water management work approvals by taking groundwater in excess of the approvals. The regulator alleges the water user took approximately 6,000 megalitres of water in excess of their licence allocation.

The same individual also faces three charges under section 60C(2) of the WM Act for allegedly taking groundwater in breach of the water allocation for an aquifer access licence between September and October 2019 and then again in February 2020.

If found guilty of all seven charges, the accused faces a maximum fine of up to $500,500 for each offence.

The other individual faces one charge under section 91G(1) of the WM Act for allegedly contravening a term or condition of a water management work approval by taking groundwater in excess of the approval between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020.

If found guilty, the individual faces a maximum fine of up to $500,500.

The regulator says all the alleged offences took place at the Lower Murrumbidgee Deep Groundwater Source.

The matters are listed before the Land and Environment Court on 11 June 2021.

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