Supplementary water reduced after floodplain harvesting rules blocked

Gwydir and Border Rivers will see reduced supplementary allocations

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Gwydir irrigators argue a reduction in access to supplementary water, could actually increase the chance of water spilling from the river and creating opportunities for floodplain harvesting. Photo: Rabbit Hop Films

Gwydir irrigators argue a reduction in access to supplementary water, could actually increase the chance of water spilling from the river and creating opportunities for floodplain harvesting. Photo: Rabbit Hop Films

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Irrigators argue you can't rob Peter to pay Paul.

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Gwydir Valley irrigators have hit out at the NSW Parliament after supplementary water users in the Gwydir and Border Rivers were informed their allocations would be reduced, as an apparent consequence of floodplain harvesting regulations being disallowed.

A statement from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Water) said due to a modelled growth in flood extractions above legal limits, the Gwydir would likely have their supplementary allocation cut in half from next water year and the Border Rivers supplementary allocation would be reduced by 25 per cent.

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The floodplain harvesting regulations were disallowed by the NSW Upper House last month, with the opposition and cross-bench calling for downstream targets to be established before the government is given "a blank cheque" for floodplain harvesting legislation.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey appeared to confirm the supplementary water restriction was a result of the disallowance in a statement from her office.

"Until floodplain harvesting licences and rules are implemented, any unmanaged growth in water use will have to be offset through reduced allocations for supplementary water licences, in line with Water Sharing Plan rules," the statement read.

"The FPH policy and regs apply to all water users across NSW."

There are 10 regulated water sources in NSW which contain the same rule that allows for reduction of supplementary access if extractions, like floodplain harvesting, exceed the limit.

Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association (GVIA) executive officer Zara Lowien said they were now seeing the consequences of the "misguided decision" to block floodplain harvesting regulations.

"Parliament refused to regulate this historical form of take and removed the future rules to better manage it," she said.

"Floodplain harvesting hasn't gone away. Now water users, who have not created the problem are being forced to pay the price for that decision."

You don't rob Peter, the supplementary licence holder, to pay Paul, the floodplain harvester. - Zara Lowien, Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association

Ms Lowien argued the water reduction unfairly impacted supplementary licence holders who were not floodplain harvesters.

"You don't rob Peter, the supplementary licence holder, to pay Paul, the floodplain harvester," Ms Lowien said.

"It's not a fair or equitable way to manage water and it's not good policy."

Supplementary events typically occur when all other requirements have been met, during floods or storms.

"It's water that flows into our system below Copeton Dam, it's provided on a 50/50 sharing basis with the environment," Ms Lowien said.

She argued that a reduced access to supplementary water would create a chain reaction and was likely to increase extractions elsewhere.

"It increases the chance of water spilling from the river and creating opportunities for floodplain harvesting," she said.

This water year Gwydir Valley supplementary water holders have had 100pc access to their entitlement and 141GL of supplementary water was used, including 135GL for consumptive use and 5.8GL for environmental use.

Independent MP Justin Field said it was disappointing the minister had chosen to take water from supplementary licence holders instead of negotiating with the opposition and cross-bench on equitable floodplain harvesting rules.

"I call on Minister Pavey to stop prioritising the interests of floodplain harvesters over other licence holders, downstream communities and the environment," Mr Field said.

"It isn't reasonable that other licence holders, the environment and downstream communities are negatively impacted while floodplain harvesters are allowed to take more than their fair share."

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