The NSW Government has implemented a range of significant reforms to improve water management in recent years. Some of these reforms have been in response to independent reviews and inquiries into water management issues. As a result of actions already taken, NSW has already made substantial progress against the recommendations of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s November 2020 report into the management of water in NSW.
Improving water and sewage services for Aboriginal communities
Together, the NSW Government and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council are investing more than $200 million over a 25-year period to fund the maintenance, operation and repair of water supply and sewerage systems in 62 discrete eligible Aboriginal communities.
Improving water supply and sewerage services for regional communities
The $1 billion Safe and Secure Water Program co-funds eligible projects to address key risks to regional water safety and security, and aims to provide safe, secure and sustainable water and wastewater services to regional NSW towns.
Implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Basin Plan, made under the Commonwealth WaterAct2007, aims to rebalance water sharing between the environment and other water uses, and limits the amount of water that can be used by towns, communities, farmers, mining and industry to make sure there is enough left for a healthy environment. Water sharing between states is also governed by Basin level agreements. NSW continues to work with other jurisdictions and communities on the implementation of the Basin Plan. The NSW Government has submitted 20 water resource plans to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for accreditation - representing the vast majority of water resource planning across the jurisdictions in the Basin.
Improving compliance and transparency
A tough new regulator, the independent Natural Resources Access Regulator, has been established to crack down on illegal water use and rebuild trust in the community around water use and access. The Natural Resources Access Regulator is using new technologies, including remote sensing and satellite monitoring, as part of its efforts to detect breaches in our water rules and deter water users from breaking the rules.
Introducing new metering laws
Robust new laws are now in place to accurately meter water taken from rivers, creeks and groundwater in NSW. Once these rules are fully implemented, around 95% of all licensed water take capacity will be accurately metered, helping to reduce the overuse of water, increase water available to downstream users and better manage water for the environment.
Fast-tracking the NSW approvals process
The Water Supply (Critical Needs) Act 2019 provides an alternative authorisation pathway for emergency water supply projects required for certain towns and localities declared to be in critical need of water during the recent drought, with a sunset date of November 2021. The Act also supports certain dam projects that are being delivered in partnership with the Australian Government to enhance future water security and supply.
Improving the management of environmental water
The NSW Government is committed to improving how we manage environmental water in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin to maximise environmental outcomes, improve our water systems and make sure that communities across NSW continue to enjoy the many benefits associated with healthy, productive rivers, streams and wetlands. We have implemented ‘active management’ in the Barwon-Darling, Macquarie and Gwydir valleys to protect water that has been purchased for the environment from extraction when it flows through these systems. We also made several amendments to the water sharing plan for the Barwon-Darling system including a resumption of flow rule to protect the first flows following a continuous period of dry or low flow, and introducing limits to the amount an individual licence can pump out of the river each day.
Recognising Aboriginal people’s water rights, interests and access to water
The NSW Government acknowledges the importance of healthy waterways to Aboriginal people and communities across NSW and is examining ways to better meet their spiritual, cultural, social and economic needs around water. We are exploring options to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people at state-wide, regional and local levels and to increase the representation of Aboriginal water rights, interests and access to water in water resource management. We are working with peak Aboriginal groups on what needs to change.
Reforming the management of floodplain harvesting
In some areas, particularly in the northern Murray-Darling Basin, as well as water being taken from rivers and groundwater sources, flood waters are harvested from the floodplain and stored in on-farm storages for use in irrigated agriculture. Floodplain harvesting makes up a significant proportion of the legal limits for surface water take in the northern Basin.
The NSW Government introduced a Floodplain Harvesting Policy in 2013 so that this form of water take can be effectively regulated within these legal limits. Implementation of the policy in the northern Basin seeks to control floodplain harvesting within legal limits through licensing.
The reform will reduce floodplain diversions in some northern Basin valleys by up to 30%, resulting in significant environmental and downstream outcomes. Licensing will also provide much needed certainty for historically legitimate floodplain harvesting to continue, supporting businesses and communities throughout the northern Basin.
The 2019 Floodplain Harvesting Action Plan sets out the NSW Government’s commitments to use the best available facts, data and scientific analysis, consult and set clear rules, ensure rules are followed and improve floodplain harvesting management over time. The NSW Government’s Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy 2020 requires landholders receiving a flood plain harvesting access licence in the northern Murray–Darling Basin to install meters and telemetry to provide accurate and reliable water take information. For the first time anywhere in Australia, floodplain harvesting will be measured and high quality data will be generated to support a fair system of floodplain access.
Implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan requires a significant body of work to be undertaken by NSW. As a large percentage of the Basin is in NSW, our state has borne the lion's share of the plan’s implementation. To date, NSW has recovered more than 1,000 GL of our 1,276 GL Basin Plan target, with most of the remaining recovery planned to be delivered through offset projects.
A clear pathway forward beyond 2024 is critical to provide certainty to our Basin communities and ensure that high quality projects deliver the economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes sought by the Basin Plan.
For the Basin Plan to deliver on its intended outcomes, the following is needed:
- A renewed focus on adaptable and flexible implementation of the Plan with a focus on genuine and balanced outcomes.
- An amendment to the Basin Plan to extend the 2024 deadline for implementation of the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism and water recovery, as the current deadline is not achievable.
- A commitment to complementary measures, or a range of non-flow projects, that deliver significant Basin Plan environmental outcomes without taking productive water away from our towns and communities.
- Implementation of reforms to improve the governance of Basin water markets, market integrity and conduct, trade processing and market information, and market infrastructure.
- A single source information platform where water users and communities can go to find out critical information about water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.