A key part of the NSW Government’s water management reform is modernising water metering and monitoring, and a staged rollout of a robust metering framework to improve the standard and coverage of non-urban water meters across the state.
NSW has the most water licences in Australia and the largest volume of water to manage. The new metering framework sets clear rules around who needs a meter and is based on the objective that meters are accurate, tamper-proof and auditable.
These rules apply to water supply works, such as pumps, that can be measured with an accurate meter and are licensed to take water from regulated and unregulated rivers and groundwater systems.
While many water users already use meters to record their water take, these new rules apply a consistent standard to ensure we know how much water is being taken and if it is being taken according to the rules. Accurate data about water take can create on-farm efficiencies and helps to ensure that the needs of downstream water users can be met. This includes water being used for town water supplies and to support the environment.
The Department of Planning and Environment has worked closely with WaterNSW and NRAR since the metering rules became law in 2018, to ensure water users are aware of the new rules and how to comply. We are working together to continually improve our communications and to ensure that we are meeting the needs of water users.
The department has engaged extensively with water users, meter suppliers and duly qualified persons (DQPs)—who install and validate meters and telemetry equipment—to raise awareness of the rules. This ongoing engagement has also helped us to learn about some of the challenges facing water users and DQPs. This in turn informed our approach to communications and online information tools—such as the Metering Guidance Tool and Telemetry Coverage Tool—to help people access the information they need to become compliant.
In 2021 the department held a series of information sessions, both virtual and face-to-face (in 15 regional locations). This face-to-face engagement has continued in 2022 in an additional 6 locations to-date.
These information sessions included trade stalls where water users could talk to a selection of metering suppliers to help them understand what products and equipment were available to meet their needs as their compliance deadline approached.
Based on feedback that these sessions are valuable for water users, the department is continuing to plan and deliver information sessions as the rollout continues.
The department also engaged water users and industry in a variety of ways to promote awareness of the metering rules. This included stories in newsletters published by the department, WaterNSW and NRAR, engaging industry (manufacturers and DQPs) in surveys to track the uptake of metering and measurement equipment, letters and fact sheets mailed to water users and presentations to WaterNSW River Operations Stakeholder Consultation Committees and Customer Advisory Group meetings. The department has run 3 outbound call campaigns to affected waters users in the northern and southern inland region and whose surface water pumps are sized 500 mm and above, aimed to ensure they were aware of the rules and received follow-up information if requested. The department also led a multimedia advertising campaign under the banner of ‘Do you need to comply? Know the rules and meter your supply’ which led to a significant rise in applications.
To ensure water users comply with the water measuring rules, the NRAR – the state’s independent water regulator – audits data sources and visits properties to confirm that the appropriate metering equipment has been installed and validated. If required, data about water taken is transmitted to the Data Acquisition Service (DAS), managed by WaterNSW.
As part of the staged compliance rollout, water users with surface water pumps of 500 mm and above were required to comply by 1 December 2020, water users in northern inland NSW were required to comply with the new metering standards by 1 December 2021 and southern inland users will need to comply by December 2022. Coastal NSW water users will need to comply by 1 December 2023.
By modernising water metering and monitoring, the NSW Government is helping to deliver better planning of water infrastructure and river operations at a local, regional and state level.
Wilcannia Weir – Listen, Learn, Adapt and Deliver Together
The Wilcannia Weir was built by hand in 1942 to give the north-western NSW community of Wilcannia a more reliable town water supply. Since the weir was built, water levels have decreased, altering the course and flow of the river and removing it from the community of Wilcannia.
The NSW and Australian Governments are investing $47 million to build a new Wilcannia Weir to improve river flow management and provide greater water security and long-term town water supply. The project will provide a weir 5 km downstream from the old weir, at a location agreed by the local community during consultation. The start of early works for the new weir, including road upgrade works for construction vehicles, began in December 2021.
Wilcannia is the traditional home of the Barkandji people who continue to have a deep spiritual relationship with the river. In Barkandji, the Darling River is known as the Baaka and the word Barkandji means ‘people of the river’.
Engagement with the local Aboriginal community aims to open up opportunities to work collaboratively on the project to develop employment, training and arts initiatives, as well as supporting broader social, economic and environmental benefits for Wilcannia, its people and surrounds.
WaterNSW and Water Infrastructure NSW worked together with TAFE NSW, the Regional Enterprise Development Institute (REDI.E) and Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) on 4 training programs for the local community, including Fit for Work, Construction, Hospitality and Tourism, with 20 students graduating in late 2021. Graduates from the TAFE NSW Certificate 1 and 2 in Construction course gained valuable on-the-job experience as part of early works for the weir project, including grading and road formation. Further training in machinery and excavation are planned for 2022.
A new weir for the Wilcannia community means more water can be stored, which will provide a secure source of water during drought. The new weir will be 1 metre higher than the existing weir. Gates and a fishway will allow flows to pass through and fish to travel upstream and downstream, supporting a healthier Baaka-Darling River.
A new recreation area is proposed near the weir, to support fishing, canoeing and picnicking, and the local community are providing feedback about what they want the recreation area to include, such as a walking track, and informal parking. One of the priorities identified by the community is to reuse some of the stones from the old weir at the new weir site
Fish for the Future: Reconnecting the Northern Basin project
Australian native fish migrate along rivers to feed, breed, disperse and find homes, and avoid threats like predators and drying habitats. In the northern Basin, the main fish migration pathways are the Barwon–Darling and Border Rivers valleys, which connect cross-border regions, as well as critical links to the southern Basin via the Baaka/Lower Darling.
The Fish for the Future: Reconnecting the Northern Basin project aims to address barriers to native fish passage at 22 priority mainstream weir sites along the Barwon–Darling and Border Rivers, including the removal of illegal rock structures and the construction of fishways. Fishways, also known as fish ladders, are structures constructed on or around barriers such as dams or weirs to allow fish to migrate past the barriers either upstream or downstream as part of their natural life cycles.
When fully implemented, Fish for the Future: Reconnecting the Northern Basin will create a connected ‘highway’ for native fish such as Golden Perch and Murray Cod, to migrate over more than 2,000 kilometres in the Barwon–Darling and Border Rivers and into Queensland.
The project will provide significant environmental, economic and cultural benefits to the northern Basin, including:
- increased movement of native fish species across the northern NSW Murray–Darling Basin.
- enhanced cultural values for First Nations communities.
- support for regional economies and local job opportunities during construction.
- increased regional tourism opportunities as native fish populations increase.
- sustained management of agricultural and water resources with reduced ecological impact.
The project will be delivered in stages. Stage 1 early works are currently being delivered, focusing on sites in the Border Rivers. Stage 2 is in the planning and assessment phase, including consideration of interaction with other planned projects in western NSW.
Fish for the Future: Reconnecting the Northern Basin is one of 4 projects being delivered by the NSW Government under the Northern Basin Toolkit – a $180 million investment in the ecological health of the northern Basin that will create opportunities for local communities, improve river management across the northern Basin and protect water for the environment.
The project is funded by the Australian Government.
Ground-breaking climate science
The NSW Government is developing 12 regional water strategies which bring together the most up-to-date information and evidence to make sure there is the right amount of water, of the right quality, delivered in the right way to meet the needs of communities, First Nations/Aboriginal people, industry and the environment. These strategies have been developed using a new approach to understanding past and future climate risk to ensure a more water-secure future.
This new 4-step approach recognises the critical importance of climate risk to NSW’s future water supplies and uses risk modelling developed by the Department of Planning and Environment, with advice from the University of Newcastle and the University of Adelaide.
Up until now, many decisions about water-related development and planning in NSW river valleys have been based on a lived experience of climate conditions –that is, what communities going back several generations have experienced and recorded in river flows, rainfall and evaporation (hydroclimatic data).
We have applied a new 4-step approach to better understand past and future climate risk
The approach uses:
- Historical data – analysis of the past 130 years of recorded climate data and the climate drivers that influence past and present climate to provide an understanding of the variability of our climatic system.
- Paleoclimate data – using scientific methods, we are supplementing this historical record with new paleoclimate data reconstructed from sources like tree rings, cave deposits and coral growth. Combining historical and paleoclimate data gives us over 500 years of climate data.
- Stochastic methods – we can then use a stochastic modelling method (which uses a probability approach) based on the statistical characteristics of the new climate data, to help us quantify climate variability. This type of modelling tells us much more about possible climatic extremes and the natural variability in the climate.
- Climate projections – we can then apply the NSW Government’s climate projections to this new data set to understand the impacts if various climate change scenarios eventuate.
The new Paleoclimate data provides an improved understanding of our current climate. We have also chosen a worst case climate change scenario, to stress test the behaviour of our systems. Both data sets allow us to test long-term strategic options against a better set of data on current conditions as well as against a worst-case scenario. Testing a wide range of climate risks, from current climatic behaviour to a worst-case climate scenario, means that we can now better understand the possible range of future climate characteristics for the 12 regions in NSW. We can better identify the potential risks to water security in different parts of the state and we can develop specific, targeted actions to mitigate these risks.
While the use of the worst-case climate scenario is considered appropriate for this strategic level assessment, providing an assessment of the range of risks from current through to an extremely dry future, the actions to inform policy, planning and infrastructure include a recognition that further assessments of climate change risk will be required.
These assessments will need to consider both the planning horizon and any latest advice on climate scenarios.
This data is being used to investigate the potential benefits and impacts of options for water management outlined in each regional water strategy. The data will also be used by WaterNSW and other agencies to assess the merits of new projects, plans and programs.
Understanding past and future climate risk will ensure the NSW Government is well placed to support a more water-secure future.
Safe and Secure Water Program
Every person in NSW has a right to expect access to safe drinking water for use at home and water security in their communities. In regional NSW, Local Water Utilities (LWUs) are responsible for planning and delivering safe, secure, sustainable and affordable water supply and sewerage services to approximately 1.85 million residents.
The Safe and Secure Water Program (SSWP) provides co- funding to councils for eligible water and sewerage projects in regional NSW. The key outcomes of the SSWP are to improve public health, water security, environmental outcomes and social benefits.
Since it started in 2017, the Program has delivered 26 completed projects across the state, supporting projects in large regional centres such as Wagga Wagga with a population of over 65,000 and small remote communities such as White Cliffs with a population of 107.
The NSW Government works in partnership with the 92 local water utilities to ensure all NSW communities have safe, secure and sustainable water supply and sewerage services. Funding is prioritised to regional communities facing the most significant risks to water and wastewater services.
The NSW Government has committed $248 million to 121 projects across 68 LWUs that are currently being delivered which will provide:
- Water security: A secure water supply to 446,000 people across 87 communities that were previously at high risk of running out of water
- Water quality: High-quality drinking water to 171,000 people across 19 communities where water quality does not meet the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines
- Environmental outcomes: Improved environmental outcomes to 134,000 people across 24 communities
From the 270 km pipeline from Wentworth to Broken Hill to the Bundarra sewerage scheme and the Bourke water treatment plant, the impact of Safe and Secure Water projects goes beyond providing access to water and vital services.
Investing in water and wastewater infrastructure is also unlocking economic potential across rural and regional NSW by providing the services necessary to support population growth and business development.
The program is contributing to:
- a sustainable, clean and resilient economy
- quality of life, ensuring NSW is the best place to live, work and raise a family regardless of postcode
- modern government, providing accessible, affordable and world class services
- growing the NSW economy through job creation, new industries, and investment attraction
Statewide Water Efficiency Framework and Program
Better valuing our precious water resources is an important message in the NSW Water Strategy, with ongoing water conservation practices identified as a key part of managing the current and future water needs of NSW communities.
The NSW Government is consulting with water utilities, local government, industry leaders and the wider water sector to develop a statewide Water Efficiency Framework and Program. A key aspect of the program is to support water efficiency through a partnership model, including working with local water utilities to address network leakage and water loss.
The Department of Planning and Environment is also exploring new ways to work with the community to ensure NSW has secure, reliable water sources and to build future resilience to climate change and droughts. Developing and taking up opportunities to use water more efficiently can also help reduce potential flow-on costs to the community for additional water infrastructure.
In April 2022, the NSW Government, in collaboration with Sydney Water and Hunter Water launched the state’s first pilot Washing Machine Replacement Program for 3,000 eligible social housing tenants. This allowed them to replace their old top loader washing machines with a more water and energy efficient front-loading washing machine from only $150.
The initial pilot program was open to eligible Land and Housing Corporation and Aboriginal Housing Office tenants from across 43 local government areas. The program helps residents to reduce their annual cost of living expenses, with an estimated saving on household electricity bills and detergent costs of around $220 to $245 and a saving of around 25,000 litres of water each year per machine.
Following the success of the first pilot program, a second program was launched in June 2022.
This second program was expanded statewide to all tenants within social and Aboriginal housing, including those managed by community housing providers, extending eligibility to a further 90,000 NSW households.
The Washing Machine Replacement Program demonstrates the positive effect that using water more efficiently can have on both the environment and cost of living for NSW residents.
Using technology to support modern compliance
The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is the independent water regulator for NSW.
Established in 2018, NRAR’s work is essential to a more transparent water compliance and enforcement system and ensures water is shared fairly across the state.
NRAR plays a critical role in ensuring that water rights licence holders are only taking their fair share of water from the system and complying with water laws.
In NSW, NRAR proactively monitors and regulates:
- water across 800,000 square kilometres
- 42,000 water access licences
- 33,000 works approvals for irrigation alone
- 161,000 total works approvals
- 10,000 constructed water bodies greater than one hectare in size.
The regulator is pioneering new and emerging techniques and technologies to deliver high-quality regulation for NSW using satellite technology, drones and mapping.
These technologies played a critical part in ensuring water regulation continued during COVID-19 lockdown periods in NSW throughout 2021, including the July-September 2021 quarter, in which over 900 remote investigations took place using a combination of satellites, smart data and phone calls.
NRAR’s use of powerful satellite technology and collaboration with the Department of Planning and Environment –Water, Murray–Darling Basin Authority and Geoscience Australia has enabled NRAR to monitor dams across the state for unusual surface water area changes through a semi-automated process that can scan more than 3,000 dams simultaneously.
As part of providing transparent and accountable enforcement of NSW water laws, NRAR’s enforcement actions and a quarterly compliance activity dashboard are publicly available at www.nrar.nsw.gov.au
NRAR’s innovative approach to supporting efficient, transparent and accountable compliance and enforcement ensures that water users and the broader community can have confidence in the fair and efficient management of water in NSW.
New research to improve water management
Do we have the right data, of sufficient quality, and in useable form to make well-informed decisions about groundwater? The NSW Government is investing in an $850,000 smart sensor research project that will use new and innovative technology to improve water data collection.
The Where is All the Water? exploratory research project helps NSW government agencies and other organisations who want to improve aspects of their water management by overcoming gaps and discrepancies in the data of water assets. It provides a research platform for integrating different types of sensors and the data analytics used to aid modelling, predictions and decision making.
Water is a precious and limited resource so it’s important we invest in the latest technology and research to best understand water’s complexities. Existing processes provide a good understanding of surface and ground water movement, but this new technology could take that knowledge a step further.
The project will bring together existing data with new findings from gravity, quantum and low-cost sensors to take our understanding of water location and movement to the next level. One of the new technologies being used for this project is quantum-based gravity sensors, like those used in mining exploration. These sensors pick up gravity signals to detect water and voids underground without drilling, giving us a better understanding of groundwater sources.
Improving water data will allow us to enhance policy and management strategies ensuring the best outcomes for community, industry, culture and environment. The project will also help the Natural Resource Access Regulator (NRAR) to keep an even closer eye on water take ensuring water is taken and used lawfully throughout the state.
The Where is all the water? project is an exciting opportunity to trial new data collection and analysis techniques to improve our water knowledge.
The project is a joint initiative of the NSW Government, the Office of the Chief Scientist, Water NSW, NRAR and NSW Smart Sensing Network partner universities to enhance the state’s knowledge of water movement.