The clock has wound back for water security on eastern fall country.
Yesterday's announcement that NSW Water has back-flipped on the previous government's 2021 decision to increase harvestable water rights has angered industry sectors on the coast, from dairy and beef to horticulture.
According to the departmental notice, landholders will revert to 10pc take from what had been increased to 30pc.
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW welcomed the move, saying more rainfall would flow downstream to coastal wetlands.
However, primary producers argue the amount of runoff stored in farm dams is negligible.
"We are talking about one in every 130 drops of rain being taken, argues National Member for Coffs Harbour and prior horticultural industry leader Gurmesh Singh.
"The average is lower than 1pc of water that falls on a property. Around Coffs Harbour where we get 1600mm/year, or 16ml/ha/yr a farmer can take only 0.125ml/ha. It is a tiny number. The underlying policy is flawed.
"We should aim to store as much as we can."
Meanwhile Gloucester dairy producer Graham Forbes predicts claims for damages to flow from the government decision.
"The move is ridiculous. It's political," he says. "If they are taking an asset away then farmers need compensation."
The move won't impact irrigators who draw from a secure flow, and neither does it affect intensive horticulture. The biggest losers are grazing and dairy properties that rely on dam water to maintain livestock.
Chair of the Richmond Wilsons Water Users Group Chris Magner, Tatham via Casino, says he was "stunned and shocked" by the announcement, coming at a time when coastal country is drying out.
Cattle this week sold in Lismore due to a lack of stock water, he points out; an occurrence repeated in many of the Northern Rivers.
"We are talking about surplus water only taken at high rainfall times of the year," Mr Magner says. "On the coast the water only goes out to sea."
"Not everyone will dig a dam if they have access to a reliable river. The assumptions by the department aren't correct. There is only a small amount of water harvested.
"My concern is that government has removed a right. Only a small number of farmers take up the offer to take runoff and only during wet periods. We need to secure water in the landscape."
Wingham dairy farmer Natasha Yarrington said the need for on-farm dam storage was made apparent during the 2019 fires and she recalls an incident on her parents farm at Killabakh where the 32 mega litre dam supplied Bambi buckets with precious water so helicopters could save nearby homes from perishing.
"In those cases five or ten minutes flying time is critical," she says.
"When times are wet none of us have enough storage to capture the runoff. This decision seems to lack common sense. During a downpour last March I wished we had more dams and more storage. Now the dams are empty and paddocks can't be used.
"Water is life. It makes sense to capture more of it."
Casino dairy producer Terry Toohey said the decision would limit future dam development because the investment to dig one would be wasted with a paltry 10pc allowance.
"The people want us to feed the the country but the government has got to start working with us, not against us," he says.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.