A NSW Government website



Topics from the March 2022 webinar include an update on regional water strategies, water sharing plans, floodplain harvesting and river health.

Macintyre River.

Water Engagement Roundup

Collateral from the webinar on Wednesday, 16 March 2022.

Watch the webinar

16 March 2022 – A webinar was held and the topics covered included stakeholder engagement, regional water strategies, water sharing plans and more.

Questions and answers

The following are questions by topic asked from the registration and during the Water Engagement Roundup webinar.

Stakeholder engagement

How do you propose to culturally engage and inform all First Nations communities and make sure you are speaking with the right people?

A. The department is committed to effective and genuine engagement with First Nations stakeholders and the broader community. The department recognises that engaging with stakeholders and the community leads to better public policy outcomes, improved service delivery and enhanced customer satisfaction as outlined in our stakeholder engagement policy.

To support this commitment, the department established a dedicated Aboriginal Water Strategy branch and water infrastructure engagement and communications team. This focus will help to improve our approaches and be more coordinated in how we engagement and inform First Nations communities.

COVID-19 restrictions have impacted our face-to-face engagement schedule, and while online consultation can be helpful, we have heard feedback from stakeholders that when we are discussing First Nations water needs and programs, face-to-face engagement is more appropriate. Where possible, we have tried to engage with people on the ground in face-to-face sessions, an example is the yarning circle meetings with the First Nations people in the western region. We will continue to meet with groups and individuals and be guided by communities about the best way to engage with them.

In the floodplain harvesting project space, we engaged Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) to co-deliver consultation with First Nation Groups in the Border River, Gwydir and Macquarie Valleys. This feedback will be used to develop a floodplain management cultural considerations report that will be published during 2022.

Do you have separate face-to-face sessions for First Nations groups?

A. Yes, as outlined in the above response, many projects have separate or additional face-to-face sessions with First Nations groups, for example for the Western Regional Water Strategy face-to-face sessions were held with First Nations groups in the western region recently.

For more information go to: Aboriginal engagement | Water (nsw.gov.au)

Regional water strategies

Does the draft Barwon Darling Regional Water Strategy (RWS) recognise that the Barwon starts in Gomeroi, Gamilaroi, Kamilaroi, Gamilaraay Country and the Barwon meets the Namoi in Walgett.

A. Yes, the Western Regional Water Strategy (RWS) recognises the issue of connectivity and water flowing from the Northern Basin and downstream to the Gomeroi, Gamilaroi, Kamilaroi, Gamilaraay Country.

For more information go to: Connectivity

Public exhibition of the draft RWS is scheduled to occur in 2022, for updates to to: Regional water strategies upcoming public exhibition - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au.

What feedback will be provided for the process of the Stakeholder Reference Group on connectivity - submissions were lodged in December (WaterNSW had undertaken to provide tributary utilisation rates for the Northern tributaries).

A. The department received submissions from members of the Connectivity Stakeholder Reference Group in December 2021 and January 2022.

Feedback from the submissions included a request for the department to analyse and undertake quantitative assessment of some of the proposed targets and triggers points which we are currently working on.

The next steps are to publish a response to those submissions here: Connectivity Stakeholder Reference group - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au)

When are we going to get access to the numbers proposed at Menindee before upstream take will be allowed?

A. This was discussed at the Connectivity Stakeholder Reference group - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au) in 2021. As mentioned above, the department is currently reviewing the data and will be consulting on this in the coming months.

When was the first public discussion of the regional water strategy?

A. The draft Western Regional Water Strategy (Western RWS) is scheduled to be published for public exhibition in the first half of 2022. General discussions about regional water strategies have been ongoing for a number of years:

Upcoming public exhibitions | Water (nsw.gov.au)

Can you please advise the distinction between statutory and non-statutory instruments?

A. Regional Water Strategies (RWSs) are not legal instruments, i.e. they in themselves will not change the law. However, RWSs will make recommendations about the direction or changes that may need to be made to legal instruments as well as infrastructure, programs, policy etc. Regional water strategies in New South Wales | Water (nsw.gov.au)

Water Sharing Plans (WSPs) on the other hand are the legal instruments in NSW that set out how water is to be shared between different users and the environment. See: Water sharing plans - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au)

Regional water strategies may make recommendations about changes to water sharing plans, but they do not replace water sharing plans.

Water sharing plans

What is the expected date in 2022 for the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan to go before the NSW Parliament?

A. Water Sharing Plans (WSPs) do not need to go before Parliament. When a WSP is remade or amended, the Minister for Water is responsible for the gazettal of the plan once concurrence approval is received from the Minister for the Environment.

More information on WSPs, including functions, review processes and evaluations can be found Water Sharing Plans - planning process.

What is the expected date for the Barwon Darling water sharing plan to be gazetted by the Minister?

A. The Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan (WSP) is required to be remade by 30 June 2023. The water minister needs to gazette the plan before this date.

For more information on how WSPs work go to: How water sharing plans work - Water in New South Wales.

Is it possible for water minister to amend a WSP without public consultation and notification?

A. Yes, it is plan without public notification. However, the department would always look to consult stakeholders and the community on proposed changes that would impact them. A current example of this is the online submission consultation on an amendment to the Draft amendment to the Darling Alluvial Groundwater Sources Water Sharing Plan - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au).

When do you expect to submit the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan to the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) for accreditation?

A. The Barwon Darling Water Resource Plan is due to be submitted to the Murray Darling Basin Authority for assessment and accreditation before 30 June this year (2022).

Water resource plans have been developed to meet the requirements of Chapter 10 of the Basin Plan 2012 - NSW legislation made under the Cth Water Act 2007.

Water sharing plans are made under the Water Management Act 2000 No 92 - NSW Legislation. They are, and will continue to be, the primary tool to define water-sharing arrangements in NSW. Water sharing plans are therefore a central component of each water resource plan and have been amended to meet Basin Plan requirements where necessary.

Will there be KPI's for environmental health of waterways and wetlands along the Barwon Darling and will there be consultation over any such KPI's? How will they be monitored?

A. Each water sharing plan contains a set of objectives and performance indicators that are linked to a monitoring and evaluation plan as outlined how water sharing plans work.

The Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan (WSP) was on public exhibition for public feedback in 2019 as part of the water resource plan development, click here for details: Barwon-Darling Watercourse Water Resource Plan - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au)

Additionally, the department is currently assessing how we undertake monitoring of other key objectives under the water sharing plan framework including cultural and social outcomes

Floodplain harvesting

If there are floodplain harvesting rules, why do they not include key line ploughing concepts, and other concepts that better soil moisture retentions. Is the 40 km bank on the eastern side of the Darling River upstream of Menindee Lakes a classic example of floodplain harvesting?

A. There are many activities that intercept overland flows (the term used under the Water Management Act 2000 No. 92 - NSW Legislation). The Basin states to assess proposed interception activities and the risks they pose to environmental values and downstream water users and to develop strategies for all medium and high-risk activities.

Licensing is not the only option for managing these interception activities. In many cases it is not possible or practical to volumetrically define these activities.

Floodplain harvesting is the deliberate capture, storage, and use of overland flow for irrigation. For more than 20 years floodplain harvesting has been recognised as a diversion NSW intends to volumetrically regulate and measure. Floodplain harvesting is included in the Basin cap and is also included in the national water initiative.

More information go to: About the Healthy Floodplains Project.

Could you articulate one improvement to Aboriginal cultural outcomes through FPH and how the department are forecasting this improvement.

A. A key outcome of implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy will be to return floodplain harvesting to within the legal limits described by the Basin Plan and NSW water sharing plans. Modelling predicts quite significant increases in flood flow distribution in some areas of the floodplain landscape, arising from implementation of the policy.

Through the development of floodplain management plans we collected information on flood dependent cultural assets. Together with expected improvements in the distribution of floodwaters in locations where we know there are flood dependent cultural assets, we can be confident implementation will translate to an improvement in cultural outcomes.

We also engaged Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations to do nation by nation workshops with First Nations peoples, to engage with communities about implementation of the policy in those catchment areas. This engagement has provided information on feedback from the communities. We are looking to bring that information together and publish a cultural outcomes report in the coming months.

The overriding feedback from First Nations groups is that there is a belief that too much water is being taken, particularly from the floodplain, and this is impacting cultural assets. However, in that feedback there was also strong recognition that control, and regulation of floodplain harvesting would be a good step forward.

For more information go to NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy - Water in New South Wales

What have been the key sticking points around Floodplain Harvesting licensing that has seen it not being approved by NSW parliament?

A. There are three main concerns that have been raised with the department, including model validity, critical human and environmental needs and unapproved flood works.

1. Models and model validity

A lot of effort has gone into independent peer review processes internally in New South Wales and the next step is to have the models presented to and ratified by the Murray Darling Basin Authority for cap and Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) accounting processes. Over the last couple of months, we have progressed from State-based assessments into Commonwealth-based assessments. That is one of the key areas we believe will help address the concerns raised by some stakeholder groups and members of Parliament. That is, having our revised models assessed and accepted for both Cap and SDL accounting purposes.

2. Ensuring critical human and environmental needs are not compromised by upstream water extractions

Securing water for these purposes has been considered during development of the Western Regional Water Strategy, particularly developing and implementing rules under s 324 of the NSW Water Management Act and potentially in water sharing plans. Community input regarding the introduction of these rules will be sought. We anticipate this consultation will be completed by 30 June 2022.

3. Unapproved flood works

Historically, management effort and regulation in NSW has been concentrated on rivers, creeks, and our large groundwater systems. The management of floodplains has evolved over time. It is well recognised that there are some key structures, such as levees and banks on floodplains in the northern Basin, that are unapproved and impeding flood flow distribution and causing impacts. There is a desire to bring these into compliance as soon as possible to realise the benefits of free movement of floodwater in the landscape for environmental and cultural purposes. The Government announced a new accelerated compliance program (Improving Floodplain Connections) in late 2021 that aims to bring priority unapproved flood works into compliance within 2.5 years, at least five times quicker than would be the case without the program. This is a positive step to address this concern as well.

For more information see the Floodplain Harvesting Action Plan - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au) and Improving floodplain connections - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au)

Have the Floodplain management plans informed the eligibility of works for Floodplain Harvesting licencing in regard to protecting environmental assets and water dependent cultural values?

A. There is an intersection between flood work approvals and water supply work approvals. Floodplain management plans guide the assessment and approval of flood work approvals. A flood work approval is required for any structure on the floodplain landscape that impacts the flow of water to or from a river or creek. Many works used for floodplain harvesting require a flood work approval, including levies and storages.

When moving through the licensing process for floodplain harvesting, we will not be authorising any structure for floodplain harvesting, that does not have a flood work approval if it requires one. So, if there is a storage that does not have a flood work approval and requires one, it will not be authorised for floodplain harvesting. If there is a levy structure that requires a flood work approval and does not have one, it will not be authorised for floodplain harvesting.

For more information on licensing see Floodplain harvesting licensing - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au)

For more information on floodplain management plans see Floodplain management plans - Water in New South Wales (nsw.gov.au)

River health

Why was the River Condition Index not updated in the most recent reporting period?

A. The River Condition Index is being updated with additional components of information including water quality, biodiversity and catchment disturbance in addition to the previous components. This has been a major project to develop methodology and compile datasets. In addition, it will be a spatial public portal requiring conversion to a geofabric layer. This project is due for completion in 2022.

Information about the River Condition Index methodology is available at: NSW River Condition Index.

There is high blue green algae count downstream of Tilpa, is this of concern?

A. No, blue green algae was last collected on 8 March 2022. More recent samples are currently being processed.

The Darling River at Trevallyn, Wilcannia and Caulpaulin is currently on amber alert for blue green algae. An amber alert means that the water should be considered as unsuitable for potable use and alternative supplies or prior treatment of raw water for domestic purposes should be considered. The water may also be unsuitable for stock watering. Conditions are generally suitable for water sports. Falling air temperatures and the arrival of higher flows from upstream are expected to cause algal numbers in the Darling River to decrease.

Further information may be found at: Water Quality - Algae.