It may be an arduous process, but Natural Resource Access Regulator (NRAR) says NSW irrigators are becoming more compliant with metering regulations.
As of its last count in September 2023, NRAR said the level of compliance by irrigators for metering had 25 per cent of active works in the Northern Inland 2021 group compliant with the metering rules and 38pc of active works in the Southern Inland 2023 group compliant.
An NRAR spokesperson said for the 2020 group of large water users, it was able to inspect more than half the works, due to the group's smaller size.
"These site inspections resulted in a significant increase in the amount of compliant active works 500mm and above," the spokesperson said.
"We are now in the process of consolidating this field data with bulk analysis of data in the water licensing system to create a new report.
"The report will provide a more accurate picture of the group's overall compliance status and be consistent and comparable with our reports for the Northern and Southern inland groups.
"We expect to finalise the new report in the first quarter of this year."
Metering compliance levels increased between September 2022 and September 2023 by 11pc in the Northern Inland 2021 group, with compliant active works growing from 14pc to 25pc.
For the same period, there was a 31pc increase in metering compliance in the Southern Inland 2023 group, with active works growing from 7pc to 38pc compliance.
NRAR believes the outcome of the NSW Government metering policy review is likely to impact compliance rates in 2024.
"The consultation period for the review closed last November and the Department of Planning and Environment is evaluating all feedback received through the survey and the information sessions," the spokesperson said.
"We'll know more about the review findings this year. We want an outcome that accelerates progress to compliance, making the rules easier to implement, easier to comply with and easier to enforce.
"While the review is underway, there will be no change to the regulations and compliance expectations that are currently in place.
"We consider each situation on its merits. If a licence holder has faced challenges in complying by their deadline and can show their efforts to comply, we take that into consideration."
This year will prove a significant one for compliance with the final metering rollout date set for the Coastal region on December 1.
NRAR said it will be working with WaterNSW and the department to educate water users about metering obligations and to promote voluntary compliance ahead of the deadline.
While compliance levels grew substantially, NRAR inspectors uncovered a number of breaches across the state, leading to prosecutions.
"A number of significant prosecutions began in 2022 and 2023 and these are ongoing," the spokesperson said.
"They relate to various alleged offences, but none are specifically about non-urban metering compliance.
"Prosecutions and enforceable undertakings are the most serious sanctions available to the regulator when the rules are seriously broken.
"The number of completed significant cases in 2022 and 2023 was similar, however, it should be noted that a matter might begin in one year but refer to events which are alleged to have taken place some time before.
"NRAR continues to combine advanced satellite monitoring and remote sensing technology with significant boots on the ground to detect potential breaches.
"This means that the chances of being detected if people do the wrong thing have never been higher."
NRAR believes irrigators in breach of regulations are in the minority.
"Our ongoing focus on education and advice is delivering higher levels of voluntary compliance," the spokesperson said.
"Most water users want to do the right thing, and our aim is to help them do that.
"There has been an increase in compliance actions between 2022 and 2023. While numbers always vary year-to-year in line with strategic priorities, widespread rainfall in 2022 combined with a difficult labour market and the lingering impacts of COVID 19 had an impact.
"There has been significant progress by NRAR in 2023 to ensure water users understand their obligations and comply with the law.
"Over the last year, through more than 4000 property visits, we have seen that most water users are already doing the right thing, or they are trying their very best to comply with water laws. We can observe positive change.
"With future water uncertainty and the potential of drought increasing, it is important that water users understand how much water they have in their entitlements and that they don't exceed that.
"Because when they do, they take water from other legitimate uses. They deprive communities of water and they can do serious damage to the environment."