If you want floodplain harvesting better managed, then support the enabling regulations
Over the last month, there’s been almost universal support for reducing, licensing and metering of floodplain harvesting. So it is baffling that so many of these professed supporters also backed disallowing the regulations that would have done just that.
It is perhaps not surprising these supporters are confused with so much misinformation swirling around.
For example, it is just not true that the regulations would allow floodplain harvesting above the 1994 Cap on diversions. The entire purpose of the reform is to limit floodplain harvesting so that all take is below the Cap. In some valleys, that means cutting floodplain take by a third.
The regulations also imposed mandatory metering requirements for floodplain harvesting, including telemetry and tamper-evident seals. This would enable volumes to be accurately measured, and annual take adjusted accordingly to stay under Cap. But this regulation was also bizarrely disallowed.
NSW Irrigators’ Council’s legal advice says disallowance means the status quo remains, that is, no limits on take from flood events. The legal advice is on our website.
It is consistent with the advice of the Crown Solicitor, who last year raised doubt whether a floodplain is recognised as a water source under the Water Management Act, and whether floodplain harvesting is recognised as a form of water ‘take’. I’m sure we all agree that needs changing (which would have occurred, if not for the disallowance).
Unlimited, unmetered, and largely unmanaged floodplain harvesting is not the outcome anyone wanted, nor is it in the public interest, but that is the outcome the disallowance has left us with
Let’s be clear – the losers from the disallowance are the environment and downstream users who will not get the benefit of reducing back floodwater diversions.
The regulations would have increased the volume of water available to the environment during floods. Environmental outcomes reports show the regulations would significantly benefit waterbirds, native vegetation and native fish species. It is unfortunate these outcomes are now at risk.
The regulations should not be confused with the work program underway to improve connectivity for critical human needs, environmental and cultural needs when droughts break and in drier periods. Rules, protocols and targets to achieve this need to be based on science and transparent engagement with stakeholders, not political deals behind closed doors based on numbers plucked out of the air.
Irrigators on the northern floodplains are frustrated by the misinformation and politicisation of a public interest reform. NSWIC and its members across the Basin have worked hard to foster support for this necessary reform to ensure sustainable, responsible and accountable water use. Disallowing the regulations has set everyone back.