Media Release


Statement on NSW Primacy of Water Management

The Sydney Morning Herald article of 2nd August 2020, “Irrigators pushed for NSW ‘primacy’ over basin plan, more water access”, misrepresents the NSWIC position.

1) “More water access” simply means clarifying that irrigators can use water up to the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL) in the Basin Plan. Contrary to popular misconception, there is a persistent trend of irrigators using significantly less than their share of water allocated to farming.

2) “NSW ‘primacy’ over basin plan”. State governments have always managed their own water. This is why each Basin State developed Water Resources Plans to demonstrate how their state laws (e.g. Water Sharing Plans) are consistent with the Basin Plan. Primarily, this involves limiting consumptive water use to below the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL).

3) “a move environmental lawyers say would trigger legal challenges”. Last time we checked, NSW had not ceded all its Constitutional rights to water management to the Commonwealth.

4) “The council also backed a narrowing of the definition of what constitutes so-called planned environmental water”. This misrepresents what NWSIC asked, which was simply that NSW maintain the same definition of Planned Environment Water (PEW) as when NSW committed to the Basin Plan.

This definition forms the baseline on which the entire reform is based. Changing the PEW definition in the Water Sharing Plans, and thus shifting the baseline, would be disingenuous.

NSWIC did not, has not, and will not, be advocating for irrigators to access environmental water. We respect the SDL, and the hierarchy of water allocation under the NSW Water Management Act 2000 that prioritises towns and the environment, with irrigated agriculture last cab off the rank.

The letter NSWIC wrote to Government was developed by some of the leading experts in this space and covers complex and technical areas of water policy. The full letter has been on our website since April.

We don’t apologise for advocating to maintain access to water up to the SDLs under the Basin Plan.

Further details:

  • The NSW Water Sharing Plans (WSPs) are constituted under the NSW Water Management Act 2000, not the Commonwealth Water Act 2007.
  • The NSW Water Resources Plans (WRPs) submitted to the MDBA are separate, high-level plans broadly describing how NSW will deliver Basin Plan objectives.
  • Both the MDBA and the DPIE assured water users they would be able to use water up to the SDL, as intended, under both plans.
  • NSWIC has:
    • Sought clarity to ensure NSW WSPs were consistent with the NSW Act, and that key provisions did not erode irrigators’ access to water up to the SDL over time.
    • Sought assurance NSW would manage unused agricultural water below the SDL consistent with the NSW Water Management Act 2000.
    • Highlighted that other Basin States were maintaining their rights to manage water according to their own State legislation, and NSW should be treated no differently.

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