No-one’s a winner after our elected representatives stopped short last night on a solution to provide certainty over floodplain harvesting across NSW in the lead-up to licensing.
“We know all parties worked hard behind the scenes to find a way forward after the floodplain harvesting exemption regulation was disallowed in September,” said NSWIC CEO Claire Miller.
“But it is extremely frustrating that after all that, irrigators across the State are still in limbo. The return of La Nina conditions after years of drought was supposed to bring relief to farmers, instead it feels like a threat if it starts raining heavily over summer.”
“As the Natural Resources Access Regulator told our General Meeting last week, it supported the regulation because ambiguity is bad for the regulator and water users alike.”
“Yes, the regulation was poorly drafted, poorly timed and poorly communicated and this led to misinformation and confusion about its purpose. But we urge the parties to stay at the table to address the shortcomings and provide compliance certainty as soon as possible.”
The disallowed regulation was a stop-gap until floodplain harvesting is licensed in northern valleys by 1 July 2021, and in southern valleys later.
Floodplain harvesting is defined as the impoundment of water on a designated floodplain. It includes overland flow and rainfall runoff. Water supply works built before 3 July 2008 will be taken into account when determining licence volumes. Total aggregate water take, including floodplain harvesting, will be within the Basin Plan’s sustainable limits.
Irrigators must capture rainfall runoff to meet works approval obligations under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, to ensure potentially contaminated water does not enter waterways. It means irrigators are stuck between inconsistent laws that both require them to capture water, and simultaneously to not capture, the same water.
“We are in a situation where the regulator and irrigators alike have requested clarity. All sides of politics agree that floodplain harvesting requires regulation, and we need them to stay at the table and work together,” said Ms Miller.
“While NRAR’s chief regulatory officer Grant Barnes indicated the focus would not be on eligible structures to be licensed in months, he told our General Meeting he was concerned that people outside the northern valleys without a transition pathway to licensing may find themselves in ‘legal jeopardy’.”
“Everyone agrees floodplain harvesting should be subject to strict licencing requirements, and the volume of water use reduced to sustainable levels. This requires a series of necessary regulatory changes in the lead-up to 1 July 2021.”
“We urge our elected representatives to support a smooth transition in the public interest of bedding down better regulation as soon as possible.”
“The original regulation was not good enough, and we made it clear the concerns raised in the Parliamentary Inquiry had to be addressed to give people confidence, starting with a sunset clause.”
Floodplain harvesting has long been an important way for farmers to capture and conserve water to grow food and fibre. Floods are infrequent, in many valleys only occurring one in every five to seven years. In other years, farmers either use water from rivers, or do not irrigate at all. The volume of water captured is relatively small compared to the scale of floods.