A Riverina farmer who failed to act on a letter notifying them of an extraction limit on a bore must now pay a $56,000 fine and $70,000 in court costs.
This is the third time in two months that an irrigator from this area has been convicted and fined by the court for breaches of the Water Management Act.
The farmer pleaded guilty in the NSW Land and Environment Court to a single offence under the NSW Water Management Act, which related to pumping 1,351.1 ML of water more than the bore extraction limit set in their licence approval.
The prosecution was launched by the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR), which alleged the offending took place in the Leeton area between July 2017 and June 2019.
It resulted from NRAR's project Operation Drawdown, which focused on enforcing bore water extraction limits in the Lower Murrumbidgee, Lower Lachlan, Macquarie-Castlereagh, and Lower Namoi groundwater sources, which are at risk from high and increasing water demand.
The project used desktop data comparisons combined with onsite inspections to determine if extraction limits were being followed.
In her judgment handed down this week, Her Honour Justice Pepper accepted that the breach was "inadvertent".
However, she said that by taking a greater volume of water than they were legally entitled to under the bore extraction limit for their licence, the owner of the mixed cropping operation had "undermined" the objectives of water regulation and "frustrated" the intent of the Water Management Act.
"The importance of adhering to the conditions of a water supply work approval and of ensuring the orderly management of a valuable and increasingly scarce resource cannot be understated," Justice Pepper said.
The judgment detailed how the defendant had received a letter from WaterNSW notifying them of a change to the bore extraction limit but had not sought to fully understand and act on it.
"I therefore find that it was reasonably foreseeable that failing to monitor any conditions on the approvals would harm the environment and other water users," Justice Pepper said.
NRAR Director of Investigation and Enforcement, Lisa Stockley, said NRAR welcomed the judgment.
"Extraction limits are applied to bore licences to ensure fair sharing of what is a limited water resource," Ms Stockley said.
"This protects the water source, the rights of other water users and any dependent ecosystems," she said.
It is absolutely crucial for these reasons that water users know the conditions of their water licence and follow them," she said.
"We understand that the rules can be complex, but there is help available to clarify compliance obligations."