The NSW Government has overturned a decision by its predecessors to increase the amount of allowable rainfall run-off that can be harvested as coastal harvestable rights return to 10 per cent instead of 30 per cent.
Harvestable rights allow landholders to capture and store a set volume of the rainfall run-off on their properties without a need for a licence or certain approvals.
Minister for Water Rose Jackson said the Government is focused on being led by the science and making decisions that protect communities water security for the long-term.
"The former government increased coastal harvestable rights before completing the rigorous assessments needed to properly understand what impact this change could have on town water supplies, the environment, other water users and downstream industries," Ms Jackson said.
"With dry conditions on the way, decisions must be robust and evidence-based to ensure our precious water resources are managed sustainably.
"While increasing on-farm storage may help some landholders with improving water security, a uniform increase across all catchments will not be sustainable for everyone.
"We owe it to water users and local communities along the coast to make sure that any increases in water extractions stack up."
NSW Farmers said dairy farmers have been blindsided by the drastic change, casting doubt on the industry's survival.
They believe Ms Jackson has pulled the rug out from under farmers by quietly reverting the rules to back to 10 per cent, which NSW Farmers dairy committee chair Phil Ryan called "a kick in the guts".
"This has absolutely nothing to do with the drying conditions we're seeing and everything to do with appeasing inner-city environmentalists who have no idea where their food comes from," Mr Ryan said.
"The dairy industry in NSW is already facing price pressure, a dry season ahead and cheap imports from New Zealand, and now the water minister is making it harder to be a dairy farmer.
"Short-sighted decisions like this, made without asking farmers what the practical impacts might be, puts enormous pressure on coastal agriculture and erodes trust in government."
The ability to construct a dam on a property to capture harvestable rights was introduced under the NSW Farm Dams Policy in 1999, which changed the rules from an unlimited number of farm dams on a property to a 10 per cent take statewide.
While that number sounded good on paper, landholders in coastal catchments argued for larger harvestable rights due to higher rainfall patterns and vastly different topography to farms west of the Dividing Range, where the 10 per cent rights measurement originated.
Mr Ryan said while NSW Farmers policy was to secure a 40 per cent take of rainfall under Coastal Harvestable Rights, the previous government's position was progress to unwind the "one size fits all" rules that governed the allocation and use of water resources.
"We were looking forward to greater opportunities for agriculture in a sustainable and beneficial way," Mr Ryan said.
"It was an important step in righting the old wrongs on water, but with the return of water buybacks in the Murray Darling Basin and now this change to Coastal Harvestable Rights, it seems we've got a government intent on ignoring the people who produce food for supermarket shelves.
"This is arguably the worst possible time for this decision for farmers, it's a real kick in the guts."
As part of the change, the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) will begin rigorous assessments into what level of water extraction is sustainable for coastal communities that stretch from Tweed Heads down to Eden.
Adjustments have also been made to the harvestable rights orders that apply to both the coastal-draining and central-inland draining areas.
This makes the harvestable rights rules clearer and easier for Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) to enforce and ensure landholders know what they can and cannot do.
DPE will contact all landholders directly who have increased their harvestable rights dam capacity since the limit was increased to ensure they are clear about how the revised rules will impact them.
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