A NSW Government website

Licensing floodplain harvesting

Impact of floodplain harvesting growth in the northern Basin

The NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy will help to regulate the amount of water taken from floodplains and allow more water to return to our rivers and creeks.

Horsetail waterfall

Addressing the impact of increased harvesting

The NSW Government is committed to addressing the increase in floodplain harvesting in the northern Basin by implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy (PDF, 410 KB).

In most valleys in northern NSW, revised modelling shows that floodplain harvesting has grown above the legal limits described in NSW water sharing plans and the Australian Government’s Basin Plan. This growth in floodplain harvesting is reducing the volume of water that remains on floodplains and re-enters rivers and creeks.

A new regulatory framework

The NSW Government is introducing an enforceable regulatory framework to manage floodplain harvesting through licensing and water supply works approvals. This process involves evaluating the environmental and downstream benefits of limiting floodplain harvesting to legal levels. These benefits assessments are also being conducted across the entire northern Basin, considering the collective impact of floodplain harvesting restrictions.

These assessments will allow for informed public comment about the impacts of floodplain harvesting growth and, in turn, the benefits of implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy (PDF, 410 KB).

External experts will review each of these technical assessments.

Expected environmental impacts of implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy

The department  has conducted hydrological modelling to predict the environmental response from implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy.

A summary of the analysis is presented in the fact sheet:

Common misconceptions

Legal limits specify volumes that are not subject to revisions

This is false. Legal limits in both water sharing plans and the Basin Plan are defined as long-term volumes under a certain set of development and management conditions. These limits are described as formulae and are estimated using models. They reflect the best available information that was available at the time of modelling. Volumetric estimates can be updated through formal approval processes when there is better information about the development and management conditions that they reflect.

A commonly quoted 210 GL/yr estimate of floodplain harvesting was an estimate across the northern Basin —  in both QLD and NSW — made in 2012. The information that this estimate relied on at that time was poor, and it used river system models that were not built for this purpose.

Accordingly, the NSW Government expects that this estimate will change significantly to reflect better information and the use of better modelling tools. For NSW, valley-specific, peer-reviewed technical reports which describe the modelling process and the data relied upon to re-estimate these legal limits, are being published for transparency. The first of these reports, for the Border Rivers valley are now available on the website.

The Darling River contributes 39% of the supply to South Australia each year

This is false. This figure comes from Assessment of environmental water requirements for the proposed Basin Plan: Lower Darling River System published by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in 2012. This report states ‘The Menindee Lakes Scheme delivers water to South Australia to meet part of its entitlement (39% on average)’.

The quoted figure reflects a long-term average contribution from the Lower Darling River, not a fixed annual contribution. The quoted figure does not account for year-to-year variation and the timing of inflows from the Lower Darling River into the Murray River. The figure also assumed that the Lower Darling River is always the ‘first’ source of water to supply the South Australian entitlement. However, the Lower Darling inflows are a shared water resource and all inflows are managed to meet agreed priority demands in accordance with the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. Best available information suggests that an average 86% of Murray inflows came from sources other than the Darling River over the climatic period from 1895 to 2009.

Growth in floodplain harvesting is having a significant impact on Murray River allocations

This is false. Inflows from the Lower Darling River represent, on average, 14% of the total inflows into the Murray River. This means that major changes to inflows from the northern Basin have only minor impacts on total Murray inflows. For example, a 10% reduction in inflows from the Lower Darling would result in only a 1.4% reduction in total inflows to the Murray River.

A report on the cumulative downstream benefits that result from returning floodplain harvesting to legal limits will be published in early 2021. Although there has been significant growth, reducing floodplain harvesting back to legal limits in the northern Basin is expected to result in only minor improvements in Murray allocations because of the natural processes that attenuate flood flows as they pass down through the northern Basin.

The most significant impacts on Murray allocations result from changed inflows upstream of Albury, which have decreased by more than a third in the last 20 years relative to the past century.

For more details, please refer to the Impact of lower inflows on state shares under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement (PDF, 2.5 MB)

Contact us

If you require assistance in reading these documents, please contact 1300 081 047 or  water.enquiries@dpie.nsw.gov.au