A NSW Government website



Topics from the September 2022 webinar include the NSW Water Strategy, water sharing plans and an update on the regional water strategies.

Macintyre River.

Water Engagement Roundup

Collateral from the webinar on Wednesday, 21 September 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.

NSW Water Strategy

Comment: Implement J.A.Bradfield's Turn the Rivers Inland scheme so we can lower the level in our dams. What is the Lower Namoi Floodplain harvesting modelling timeframe?

A. There have been studies analysing inland diversion proposals. The Border Rivers Regional Water Strategy (RWS) analysed options to transfer water from the Clarence catchment into the Border Rivers. Clarence Valley Council is opposed to any inland diversion scheme and wants the North Coast Regional Water Strategy to specifically state that these schemes will not be considered now or in the future.

Most recently, the CSIRO re-analysed the Bradfield scheme as well as some modern variants on it.

The analysis found that the costs are often prohibitive and add large premiums to the cost of water.

Based on feedback from consultation during the Border Rivers RWS we are undertaking more analysis on options to transfer water from the Clarence valley to the Border Rivers.

For more information visit the Bradfield scheme assessment.

Is there any movement on the Capitol Dam proposal by myself for the Upper Murrumbidgee to reclaim water for Canberra city and farming?

A. As part of the development of the Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy (RWS), the department will assess a list of proposed options that could address the key water related challenges in the region. If options are deemed to be economically, financially, and environmentally feasible, the option will be investigated further.

The draft Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategy (RWS) includes long-listed option 15 to strengthen inter-jurisdictional water management. This option would investigate improvements to the inter-jurisdictional water management arrangements in the upper Murrumbidgee region in consultation with the ACT Government and the Australian Government.

During our preliminary engagement on the Murrumbidgee RWS, we identified opportunities to investigate new infrastructure options, including new storage opportunities in the upper Murrumbidgee (eg. those that cross the NSW and ACT jurisdictions).

Investigations into a proposed Capitol Dam would need to be led by the ACT Government given the dam is located within its jurisdiction.

It is intended that community consultation on a short list of proposed options be undertaken in mid-2023 ahead of the strategy being finalised.

How do options/ objectives of the water sharing strategies tie to water sharing plans?

A. The NSW Water Strategy and the regional and metropolitan water strategies do not replace statutory instruments such as water sharing plans.

The regional and metropolitan water strategies set the agenda for water management and service delivery into the future and are designed to contribute to water management outcomes aligned with the objects and principles of the Water Management Act 2000.

Water sharing plans are made under the Act. These 10-year plans set the priorities and rules for sharing surface water and groundwater between environmental and extractive needs, and different types of extractive use for towns, domestic and stock and Native Title use, and other industrial and agricultural uses.

Water sharing plans:

  • describe how much water users can take out of the river or ground without impacting a healthy environment
  • define rights to water without a licence, including native title rights, basic landholder rights and harvestable rights
  • define rules for when licence holders can take water out of the river or ground
  • set rules for water trading.

The NSW Water Strategy Implementation is soon due for an annual review – how can a review be done when no final strategies (regional, metro, groundwater) have yet been issued?

The department will formally evaluate, review and update the NSW Water Strategy at least every 5 years. To inform this process we will track (and publicly report on) implementation, progress on delivery, and that delivery is helping us achieve the outcomes sought in the Strategy.

A similar approach to monitoring, evaluation and reporting will be adopted by the various strategies.

The first annual progress report on implementation of the NSW Water Strategy is prepared and available on the website.

During a 5-year period before a strategy is reviewed, is there audience / appetite to receive any other Unsolicited Proposals for waters reclamation?

A. While the strategy is not being reviewed for 5 years, the department is taking an adaptive management approach to the strategy.

Please send any information that the department should be aware of to water.enquiries@dpie.nsw.gov.au

Regional Water Strategies

What is the timeframe for final regional water strategies to be finalised and published together with their implementation plans – we have heard this is intended to be this year! Could you confirm this (with 3 exceptions)

A. The Greater Hunter Regional Water Strategy was published in late 2018 and is being implemented. In November 2022, the North Coast, South Coast, Border Rivers and Gwydir Regional Water Strategies and implementation plans were finalised and published. These are available on the department's website. Implementation for these strategies will continue throughout the coming years. Implementation for these strategies will continue throughout the coming years.

It is intended that the Namoi and Western Regional Water Strategies will be finalised before end December 2022 and their implementation plans will be finalised in early 2023.

And that the Macquarie-Castlereagh, Far North Coast, Lachlan, NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategies and associated implementation plans will be finalised in mid-2023 following further consultation.

Will each council be assisted to develop and implement an Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy as required under the National Water Initiative?

A. Since 1 July 2022, the new regulatory and assurance framework for local water utilities has applied to local water utilities in regional NSW. The department’s strategic planning assurance process outlined in the framework will be fully implemented from 1 December 2022, providing time for local water utilities to understand the new strategic planning approach and to develop departmental guidance and procedures to align with the new framework.

The department is committed to all local water utilities having in place effective, evidence-based strategic planning. This will ensure utilities deliver safe, secure, accessible, and affordable water supply and sewerage services to customers. It will also ensure they can manage keys risks now and into the future, and in the event of significant shocks. Local water utilities remain responsible for conducting strategic planning.

The department’s role gives assurance of effective, evidence-based strategic planning. Local water utilities not making dividend payments are encouraged, but not compelled, to utilise the department’s assurance framework, experience and capacity to support effective strategic planning.

The framework establishes what outcomes the department expects effective, evidence-based strategic planning to achieve (see section 3.2of the framework) and assesses if a utility’s strategic planning achieves these outcomes to a reasonable standard (see sections 3.3 and 3.4).

The department acknowledges it is not expressly empowered under legislation to regulate strategic planning or to enforce compliance. The department seeks to provide assurance of the effectiveness of strategic planning conducted by local water utilities to proactively address customer needs and key risks.

While the department sets expectations for the outcomes that strategic planning needs to achieve to be effective and evidence-based, utilities can decide what approach to take to meet them. The department will not specify the approaches, processes, and tools that a utility should use for strategic planning. Local water utilities are responsible for developing and implementing their own strategic planning.

There is no single best-practice way for this work to be delivered, although the department will give ‘how to’ guidance, templates, case studies and tools to facilitate a streamlined process. Our overall priority is to ensure strategic planning outcomes (outlined in Section 3.2 of the framework) are achieved to a reasonable standard.

The previous Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) checklist can continue to be used to put in place strategic planning that meets assurance outcomes. However, local water utilities can take other appropriate approaches to achieve strategic planning assurance outcomes.

Will the Recycled Water Roadmap consider pilot programs in large inland centres and a mobile education unit for regional communities?

A. The recycled water roadmap will commit to providing proactive support for water utilities to diversify sources of water. It is anticipated the proactive support may include providing communication and engagement support, training modules and case studies learning from the lessons of other jurisdictions and utilities.

Targeted consultation with water utilities for the recycled water roadmap is underway. It is expected a draft recycled water roadmap will be released for broader consultation mid-2023. Pilot programs and mobile education units are opportunities that have been raised and strongly supported by local water utilities during preliminary consultation for the recycled water roadmap. The scope and scale of these opportunities requires further consultation and investigation of funding options. Opportunities to leverage Sydney Water and Hunter Water’s planned Purified Recycled Water (PRW) demonstration plants and Sydney Water’s ‘Wonders of Water’ vehicle are also being investigated.

Water utilities should lead engagement with their communities. The roadmap will support water utilities to engage directly with their customers on the potential inclusion of PRW in their water supply.

Can the department enable consultation between Basin Officials Committee officials prior to them meeting Murray Darling Basin Authority or making decisions on Murray Valley issues? This request has been made for at least 8 years but still does not seem to have been progressed If the RWS are focused on drought, how can Murray Valley Strategies infer there will be increased water security, but the strategy itself will actually diminish water security for General Security water entitlements, due to a more precautionary approach based on climate models? Consultation feedback to the NSW Govt identified that the Murray Valley is tightly controlled/planned, already has strong provisions for drought. If the proposed original water strategy is enacted, then are high risks of less water reliability not increased? Is it NSW Government’s intent that there will be different levels of determining which types of water entitlements will be more secure through policy change & which ones won’t?

A. The Basin Officials Committee (BOC) is a forum of senior water management representatives from partner governments. It comprises 6 members; one from each Basin state (incl. ACT) and is chaired by the Commonwealth.

The BOC has key functions and powers which include responsibility for high-level policy setting and decision-making regarding river operations, including establishing principles and setting objectives and outcomes to be achieved by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) in River Murray operations. BOC provides the agreed framework within which MDBA river operators are required to function.

The BOC meets a number of times per year to discuss and make decisions on various matters which may include river operations. The department, through the NSW BOC representative, can submit matters for consideration and discussion in or out of session, but the BOC is only able to make decisions by consensus.

There are inter-jurisdictional committees that provide advice to BOC on river operations matters including the River Murray Operations Committee and the Water Liaison Working Group.

Regional water strategies are focused on achieving a range of objectives against the backdrop of a climate that is highly variable: from years with high rainfall, to moderate years of ‘average’ rainfall, to times of drought. As such, the draft NSW Murray Regional Water Strategy is underpinned by climate data and river modelling that considers a range of future climate scenarios. The strategy considers water resource challenges and opportunities against these potential future climate scenarios.

The department has identified long-listed option 9 (Review the allocation and accounting framework in the NSW Murray (regulated system)) to identify where improvements can be made to the available water determinations (allocations) process. This option, if progressed to through to the final strategy, would draw on our improved understanding of the regional climate to test changes to the allocations process. Importantly, it would be used to test if it can be made more adaptable and better serve the diverse needs of the wide range of NSW Murray water users. Any proposed changes as a result of this work would require consultation with all water user groups, before being adopted in water sharing plans.

It is intended that community consultation on a short list of proposed options be undertaken in mid-2023 ahead of the strategy being finalised.

Will budgetary commitments for projects be considered under priorities in the implementation plan?

A. The department received additional budget from the State budget for the NSW Water Strategy to implements actions, specifically for the NSW Groundwater Strategy, Aboriginal Water Strategy, and improvements to the licensing and approval systems.

As the regional water strategies are implemented, the actions outline what would be ‘ideal’ and will identify funding to deliver. Not all actions are necessarily funded. To be transparent, we are including actions to identify the work that is required and ensure budget commitment to deliver.

Can NSW Govt arrange an urgent discussion on flood risks in the Murray Valley, in particular to ensure NSW Govt can activate discussion with the Murray Darling Basin Authority on impending major floods where existing Hume Dam airspace rule is not being enacted?

A. Due to airspace releases from the Hume Weir storage and increased releases downstream of Yarrawonga, the department anticipates the Edward River and Gulpa Creek to be higher during September. The offtake gates are expected to be opened to meet unregulated conditions and would expect to see the Edwards offtake to be flowing >2,300ML/d and the Gulpa offtake to be flowing around 1,000ML/d.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority manages releases from the Hume Weir.

Water Sharing Plans

There is little or no mention of flood strategies in Water Plans. This would seem to be an omission. Would Alice and Linda agree that this is the case? Is this because the water strategies were developed as a consequence of the droughts and so focused on droughts?

A. The water security actions in the strategy have a strong focus on drought security following the experience of the 2017-2020 drought. However, this drought has been closely followed by major flood events from 2020–2022.

Some of our proposed water security actions may also help mitigate low to moderate flooding events. A more detailed assessment of the flood mitigation benefits of these options will be vital to progressing the shortlisted actions from the strategy to on-ground implementation. Analysing the flood benefits of many of the proposed actions in this strategy will require enhanced investment by governments in flood modelling and mitigation works.

In the interim, the floodplain management plans being developed for northern NSW valleys provide the cornerstone for whole of catchment floodplain management in western NSW and will be extended into the southern NSW valleys over the coming years. The Office of Local Government and the department's Environment and Heritage group also take a lead role in flood risk management for towns and regional centres across the state.

 Will NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategies & Water Resource Plans be kept as individual plans?

A. Yes. The water resource plans are required under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and once accredited are a legal instrument.

The department sought feedback from stakeholders about consolidating the NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee Regional Water Strategies into one document. The feedback received is to keep them as two separate strategies and we will finalise the strategies on this basis.

Is it the intent of the NSW Government with NSW Groundwater Strategy to revise existing Water Sharing Plans?

A. The NSW Groundwater Strategy will deliver on a key priority of NSW water strategies by providing an enhanced, state-wide focus on sustainable groundwater management for the next 20 years.

It is not the intention that this would lead to any immediate changes to groundwater sharing plans across the State.

Some of the priorities under this groundwater strategy may in the future require water sharing plan amendments to progress but this is not clearly identified at this early stage of the work.

As groundwater sharing plans are replaced, outcomes of any work progressed as a result of the strategy that relates to water sharing would be considered during the review and replacement process.