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Access to water for bushfire preparedness and firefighting

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is encouraging people to have their say on proposed changes to water laws that would give property owners and farmers across the state improved access to water for firefighting.

The Water for Bushfire Preparedness and Firefighting Proposed Approach Paper outlines changes that would make it easier for NSW landholders to lawfully take small volumes of water to fight bushfires that threaten their properties.

It includes a potential new exemption that could be introduced quickly. If implemented, this would be reviewed after a few years to determine whether it should transition to a basic landholder right under the Water Management Act 2000.

The current laws allow rural fire brigades and their officers to take water from a water source to extinguish or control a fire without a licence. But landholders themselves are only exempt if there is an emergency and they have received a lawful direction from an authorised officer.

There are no provisions at the moment for farmers or landholders to extract water from rivers or aquifers to help them prepare for imminent bushfires or fight active fires on their own land without holding water licences that can cost many thousands of dollars.

It’s why the government set up a technical advisory group to review and address this issue. A range of policy options have been assessed and the department is now proposing a new regulatory framework that is simpler and more accessible to landholders, while still being enforceable

The Department held a range of positive and productive meetings on the policy options with some of the peak stakeholder groups in December last year, including Local Government NSW, NSW Farmers, NSW Irrigators’ Council, Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, and various community-based organisations.

We are now seeking broader feedback on the proposed approach.

To view the documents and share your views, go to Water for bushfire preparedness and firefighting.

The public consultation process will close on 6 May 2024 and a What We Heard report will be published mid-year.

Executive Director Strategy and Policy – Water, NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Kaia Hodge said:

“No one can forget the devastating 2019-20 bushfire season. Its length and intensity, after years of prolonged drought across the state hammered home the importance of getting on the front foot with bushfire preparedness including improving landholder’s access to water.

“The NSW Government has set-up a technical advisory group to tackle this head on, including developing ways to cut the red tape and remove the cost burden so landholders and farmers can easily and lawfully access water in bushfire emergencies to protect lives and property.

“But it is also important that any changes to the regulations do not have any major impacts on the environment or other water users, which is why they need to be carefully considered and managed responsibly.”

Burnt water tank.
Have your say on proposed changes to water laws.