An audit conducted by the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has found that more than 40,000 megalitres (ML) of water was overdrawn during 2021-22.
This is equivalent to the capacity of Oberon Dam or 16,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, said NRAR's director of regulatory Initiatives, Ian Bernard.
This announcement lands on the same day that irrigators are protesting the federal Government's water much maligned plan for more water buybacks under the Murray Darling Basin Plan, with protests organised for communities such as Griffith and Deniliquin.
However, Mr Bernard said the water regulator would take decisive action to reduce the number of water licence holders who extract more than they're allocated.
"There's an outdated practice whereby people treat their water accounts like bank accounts, occasionally going into the red by taking more than they've been allocated and simply paying it back later. That practice is against the law," Mr Bernard said.
"Only six per cent of water accounts were found to have overdrawn their accounts, which tells us that most people are doing the right thing.
"But this small number of rule breakers have a big impact on our water resources and can cause significant harm to industry, communities, culture and the environment." Mr Bernard added.
As part of NRAR's annual regulatory priorities, officers have begun monitoring data from 2022-23, searching for any offenders.
"World-class technology and intelligent data allow us to be anywhere at any time, with the click of a button. If you overdraw your water account, NRAR will know about it, and you can expect to hear from us."
Overdrawn water accounts are not a new focus for the NSW water regulator.
In 2022, a landholder at Carrathool in the western Riverina region entered into an enforceable undertaking with NRAR after being found to have overdrawn their water account by 2280ML.
Part of that enforcable undertaking, a legally binding agreement, was an $80,000 payment to Hay Shire Council to develop a small public park.
The account holder was also required to pay for the water taken, surrender some licences and simplify others, conduct weekly manual meter readings for three and reimburse NRAR $35,000 for investigation and legal costs.
"Water users have a responsibility to learn and follow the rules. Breaking them is simply not worth the risk," Mr Bernard said.
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