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Topics from the October 2022 webinar include flood forecasting, environmental flows and the regional water strategies.

Macintyre River.

Water Engagement Roundup

Collateral from the webinar on Wednesday, 19 October 2022.

Watch the webinar

Peter summary description of the webinar

Questions and answers

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

Flood forecasting

Can the department or WaterNSW provide farmers with more flood forecasts to allow for preparations? State Emergency Services do a great job for towns but not in-between.

A. In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology provides the national flood forecasting service. The State Emergence Service (SES) is the on-the-ground-combat agency. Together, they deliver the flood alert and response functions. In that emergency space, it could be detrimental to have another body offering flood forecasting information and so the department and WaterNSW are very careful not to intrude into that space.

Contact your local council to better understand and become familiar with your local waterways and flood circumstances. For specific local information it can also be helpful to refer to local historical records and speak with long-standing local residents.

The SES are warning towns of supposed impending flood levels, however the network of creeks and streams in the mid-Murray are not covered which is leaving landholders who may have to move stock or raise pumps a bit in the dark. Where can they get some info on what to expect? I’m looking for information on these networked systems, Wakool R, Yallakool Merrin Creek etc

A. This Bureau website might help you find out what's happening in the area for expected levels in the Murray and Edwards/Wakool.

Environmental flows

What are the planned piggy backs for environmental flows?

A. The water allocations team assesses water availability and allocates water in accordance with the water sharing rules. How people choose to use their water allocation is largely up to them. Once the water is used, that information feeds back into the resource assessment and the allocation process.

There is a feedback loop as water is used, but data isn’t recorded on how individuals choose to use their water. Consultation with the relevant water holder/s would be required to obtain detailed information.

Environmental water will not be used to increase a flood peak or exacerbate a major flood event. It's more likely to be used on the back of significant flow events, as rivers start to recede. For example, if rain and inflows ease, and rivers start to recede as we head into the warmer months of summer, floodwaters are likely to return from floodplains laden with organic matter which can then trigger anoxic conditions. This ‘black water’ can be deadly for fish. If these conditions start to emerge, it is likely that environmental water will be ordered from storage and ‘piggybacked’ on the receding flows to reduce the concentration of black water and provide fish refuge. For more information about environmental water management, visit Water for the environment.

Can't the spill flows be debited from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder accounts as they are getting their farm watered but maintain account balances.

A. We only debit accounts when water is ordered and delivered. Farmers can order water to be delivered, and their accounts will be debited. Similarly, if the environmental water holder chooses to order water under the current circumstances, we'll happily deliver that water and debit their account. But with the natural high flows and inundation of floodplains, there is a natural watering, so the environmental water holder may choose not to order water and have their accounts debited. Certainly, they wouldn't want to be seen to be ordering water that was causing flooding and affecting private land. Rather, just like farmers, environmental water holders will choose to order water and use it when it best suits them. So no, we can't simply debit accounts when a natural watering occurs.

Regional water strategies

Reconnecting River Country program need to have a community advisory like the state of Victoria. Why isn't transparent engagement happening on the NSW side of the river?

A. Consistent with NSW Government’s commitment to the Basin Plan and subsequent independent review recommendations, the Reconnecting River Country Program has and continues to collaborate with regional and peak body groups, public and private landholders, First Nations and the broader community along with other stakeholders on the most appropriate engagement approach.

Since launch in August 2021, our stakeholders have been involved in detailed conversations with the program team to agree the best way to engage on various components of the program.

Suggestions continue to change throughout ongoing development of the program, and the engagement approach therefore continues to change and evolve with these suggestions. As the program moves from an initially agreed case study approach to broader stakeholder engagement in the coming months, it is expected the engagement approach will be further tailored to cater for this next phase of the program.

Where is the Murray Lower Darling water sharing plan at now?

A. The amended Murray Lower‑Darling regulated water sharing plan was submitted to the Murray Darling Basin Authority as part of the Murray Lower‑Darling Water Resource plan.

Concurrence from the Minister for the Environment will be sought before the Commonwealth Minister accredits the water resource plan after concurrence is amended. The Murray Lower‑Darling water sharing plan will be gazetted and come into force.

As part of the review and replacement of the Murray Lower‑Darling regulated water sharing plan the Natural Resources Commission will be undertaking its review of the water sharing plan in the second half of 2023. The Natural Resources Commission will be seeking submissions as part of its review. The review will feed into the next remake of the water sharing plan.

About the Murrumbidgee, the last two allocation statements have seen 3% increases, yet the preceding statements forecast no increase under (almost) any timeframe or inflow scenario. Can you explain please?

A. The department has been publishing (in water allocation statements) notes under the forecasts, explaining how difficult it is running those forecasts and getting accurate or confident results because of the high levels of uncertainty. That is, when conditions might start to dry and cause demand to increase, allowing inflows to be captured to boost allocations.

Looking forward from July, a conservative assumption is to say ‘no water will be used under the current wet conditions’. That is, inflows will spill and not accrue to allocations, hence the forecast of no improvement.

As we assess actual conditions, we find some ‘usage’, that is, retirement of liability, which allows allocations to increase. This is reflected in the 3% improvements in the recent statements. The model assumes a use pattern. As we've stepped through the months, the usage has been pushed back by the wet conditions, affecting the usage assumptions. The inflows that, in the old assumption being captured, would have been lost.

It's difficult to say when the weather conditions will change, and when water users will order their water to allow new inflows to be captured and allocations to increase. The last time demand was pushed to this late in the water-year in the Murrumbidgee was probably 2016. Forecast skill under the current conditions is low and, as indicated in the statements, the information should be used with caution.

What improvements to licensing processes would benefit water customers and your team?

A. The water allocations team assesses water availability and assigns water to existing entitlement holders. The licensing process establishes the entitlements and is therefore a critical step needed before water users can benefit from the allocations. The allocations team are not involved in the licensing process. The licensing team are always keen to receive ideas and suggestions for improving the licensing process and would welcome feedback on any positive or negative experiences. Visit our water licensing or water assist websites or provide feedback using our email water.enquiries@dpie.nsw.gov.au

Do you have ideas on how we can improve customer relationships through digital/ICT means?

A. The department hosts a range of activities to help improve discussions with stakeholders and communities, such as:

  • Hosting regular webinars, such as this Water Engagement Roundup webinar, which are held on the third Wednesday of each month
  • Presenting dedicated webinars on a variety of projects such as the recent Gwydir Floodplain Management review, the Greater Metropolitan Region water sharing plan remake, and the Lachlan and Macquarie/Castlereagh Regional Water Strategies
  • Public exhibitions, such as the coastal water sharing plans exhibitions and webinars commencing in November
  • The department uses social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook and Social Pinpoint.
    Social Pinpoint was used recently for the Reconnecting River Country Program and is only limited by poor internet connectivity in some locations
  • By managing an extensive stakeholder list, we can send information about upcoming events to anyone who is interested. To subscribe to this distribution list and receive Water News and invitations to have your say fill in this form, or email water.enquiries@dpie.nsw.gov.au