Irrigators in the Border Rivers and Gwydir valleys in northern NSW are being subjected to
licensing requirements for the first time to limit their floodplain harvesting and require meters,
in a long overdue reform more than 20 years in the making.
The licensing and metering requirements will ensure that the total volume of water diverted for
human use will be within Sustainable Diversion Limits under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The industry knew the reduction in floodwater access would happen eventually, and recognises
why regulation is needed, but says that doesn’t make it any easier for farmers whose water access
is being slashed.
“It is a sombre day for the affected irrigators, waking up to the reality of substantial cutbacks to
water access from floodplain harvesting,” said NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO, Claire Miller.
The licensing requirement follows a parliamentary inquiry last year which, according to NSWIC
research (1), found no reason to delay the reform. The research found most recommendations were
already in place or were the subject of existing and on-going departmental work programs.
“All stakeholders agree floodplain harvesting should be regulated, licensed and measured,” said
Ms Miller. “The reform also means irrigators will be charged for this water for the first time.
“It is unfathomable why anyone would want to further delay the regulation, licensing and
metering of floodplain harvesting, and allow the current free-for-all to continue.
“Yet we still have some MPs threatening disallowance just so they can keep playing wedge
politics on this important reform.
“We need to put the environment ahead of politics. This will be the largest transfer of water out
of irrigation and to the environment in the northern Basin since the early 2000s, with about two
Sydney Harbours going back to the environment.”
Rigorous environmental science assessments have found the regulation will significantly
improve outcomes for native fish, native vegetation and waterbirds.(2)
Independent analysis has found the reform also means a 14% loss to farmers’ bottom lines, with
flow-on impacts of 48 job losses per annum in these two valleys combined.(3)
The NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy seeks to reduce and limit this practice to Sustainable
Diversion Limits, as required under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and impose mandatory
metering requirements. It will also mean farmers are charged for this water for the first time.
The regulation comes as one in five litres of water have already been recovered from irrigators
across NSW under the Basin Plan, with widely documented adverse socio-economic impacts.
This regulation will reduce floodplain harvesting across the five northern NSW Basin valleys by
Floodplain harvesting in NSW currently makes up just 3% of total annual average inflows into
the northern Basin. Following policy implementation in the five northern NSW valleys, this will
be reduced to just 2%.
Australia’s 2004 National Water Initiative – the blueprint for best-practice water management
in Australia – set out to have every major form of water use subject to licensing, metering and
River water and groundwater have already been brought into that framework; floodwater is the
final major type of water take remaining. This makes it a significant step forward in the history
of water management in NSW, and Australia.