A NSW Government website

Build community confidence and capacity through engagement, transparency and accountability

Actions

1.1 Improve engagement, collaboration and understanding
1.2 Increase the amount and quality of publicly available information about water in NSW
1.3 Enhance modelling capabilities and make more data and models openly available
1.4 Reinforce the effectiveness of the Natural Resources Access Regulator
1.5 Take the final steps in floodplain harvesting reform
1.6 Review the regulation of domestic and stock basic landholder rights
1.7 Make sure the majority of non-urban water take in NSW is accurately measured

Our aspiration

The NSW public has a high level of trust in the water sector to make good decisions based on best available knowledge and in the best interests of the broader community, and confidence that water plans and rules are enforced. Water users have the information they need to invest confidently and manage their own risk.

Key challenges and opportunities

Recent reviews of water management within NSW and across the Murray-Darling Basin have identified diminished public trust in governments to deliver good long-term water management policy and support rural and regional communities.

These reviews identify the need for the water sector to be more transparent and accountable. This includes having clear evidence underpinning how and why decisions are made, and ensuring that this evidence is available to - and can be understood by—customers, stakeholders and the broader community (Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, IPART Price Submission - Stakeholder Engagement, February 2020). Reviews have also highlighted the need for 'a single source of truth' about water management and for this information to be easily accessible to the public.

There are more than 35,000 water licence holders across NSW and hundreds of thousands of landholders with a basic landholder right to take water for domestic and stock purposes. The Government engages with these licence holders through regular newsletters, communications and alerts. In addition, there are engagement forums for customers and stakeholders, including Customer Advisory Groups, River Operations Stakeholder Consultation Committees and broader river planning stakeholder groups in each valley, as well as Environmental Water Advisory Groups in some valleys.

Water management is complex and involves many agencies and all three levels of government. This complexity, along with the scope of reform in water management in NSW, means that water users and stakeholders are being consulted on multiple, and at times overlapping, government initiatives. This has led to instances of confusion, frustration and ‘consultation fatigue’. It also leads to a perception in the community that water agencies are not ‘joined up’ or working together.

While NSW and Australian water managers are improving the transparency of water information, there is still more work to be done to support effective water markets and give the community confidence that the rules are fair and compliance is being monitored and enforced.

The NSW Government acknowledges the importance of better communication with, and the more effective involvement of, all stakeholders in water management decisions and water resource planning. This includes Aboriginal communities, environmental groups, industry, local government and the broader community. We recognise that these diverse water users need access to reliable and timely information to make informed decisions on business and investment risk, and to participate in the water market.

We continue to improve how we consult on water-related projects, reforms and strategies and we are committed to making clear and concise information about water sharing and management easy to find and understand.

What communities want

In recent years, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has consulted extensively with communities across NSW on a range of water-related projects and reforms, including the development of water sharing plans and water resource plans, metering reforms, floodplain harvesting policy, environmental water management, the drought response and regional water strategies.

The department reviewed more than 1,300 consultation and engagement activities undertaken over the last four years to better understand community expectations for water management activities. Four themes were identified, centred around the need for better quality, easier to understand and more timely information, and a fair and consistent compliance and enforcement regime.

The four themes and key priorities identified by stakeholders are:

Clear and transparent enforcement of the water management framework to ensure consistency and compliance

Customers indicated strong support for a robust compliance and enforcement regime. More engagement and transparency, as well as adequate resourcing particularly in relation to the number of compliance officers, were identified as customer priorities in this area.

Monitoring customers can trust across programs and water sources

This includes improvements to current technology, as well as reporting requirements. Feedback from customers was that this would allow for fair and consistent rule enforcement, based on accurate information. Customers also want accurate and reliable data to provide them with certainty and to inform decisions about how to manage their water entitlements.

Improved accountability for water management decisions through greater transparency and strong evidence

Customers requested more technical reports and scientific analysis to provide evidence to support the department’s decisions and proposals, as well as to inform customer feedback on these.

Improving the information available to customers

to provide certainty, better inform their decisions and their feedback to the department on specific issues and improve their understanding of the water management system.

We also know that water users expect public consultation on major policy changes to the water management framework in NSW. Customers expect that changes to rules which affect water access will be subject to meaningful consultation.

Improve collaboration and engagement with communities

The NSW Government will continue to improve its approach to collaborating and engaging with communities by placing communities at the centre of decisions about water service provision.

We will work to build a trusting partnership with water users and the broader community using the following principles so that engagement is:

  • purposeful to deliver outcomes with a clear understanding of what all parties want to achieve
  • inclusive to enable the participation of all relevant stakeholders
  • timely to provide enough time for meaningful consultation and in an efficient manner
  • transparent to enable meaningful participation and set clear expectations around how participants’ input will inform outcomes, including publication of what we heard and what action will be taken
  • respectful to acknowledge the needs, experience, perspective and expertise of participants.

A critical foundation of this partnership is for government departments and agencies to become much better at explaining complex water management technical and regulatory concepts in plain English so that the model for water management, and the obligations of individuals within the system, can be understood clearly and easily by everyone. Our job and our challenge is to put ourselves in the shoes of our stakeholders and provide the best possible engagement experience.

Action 1.1 Improve engagement, collaboration and understanding

The Government will improve how the water sector engages with communities about water management and make it much easier for water users and the broader community to engage with and understand water management and how decisions are made. We will:

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

a.

use plain English in water management communications and documents

X

  

b.

improve coordination between water sector agencies on engagement activities to reduce overlap, confusion and consultation fatigue

X

  

c.

test community interest in each region of NSW to be involved in oversight of the implementation of each of the 12 regional water strategies

X

  

d.

build knowledge, seek feedback and explore new ways to increase confidence among water users about water management decisions

X

X

 

e.

work with First Nations/Aboriginal People and peak organisations to design appropriate and inclusive approaches for engagement and consultation with Aboriginal People.

X

X

Make water data and information open, transparent and easy to find

Open, transparent and accessible information is critical to building community trust in water management decisions and regulation. While the availability and transparency of water data has improved, more can be done to address community concerns about a need for greater transparency around how water is used and shared, and how water rights are held and traded.

An important new initiative in NSW is the WaterInsights portal that provides easy access to information about how water is managed and shared in NSW. It aims to help water customers to make more informed water resource planning decisions and to help communities and other stakeholders to understand what water is present in the system—in storage or in rivers or in aquifers. It explains the rules about how water is used, shared, traded and managed.

NSW has a number of public water registers that provide searchable information about water licences, approvals, water trading and environmental water. These registers can be improved to make them easier to navigate and provide more information and greater transparency about water and how it is being used, while protecting water users' privacy.

A number of public dashboards are also available on the Department’s website to make rules and water information more transparent. These dashboards provide information on water trade, allocations and use.

Through its Open Data Policy, the NSW Government is committed to making data available for use by the community, researchers, business and industry. There are opportunities to be more proactive in making available the government-held datasets that underpin water management in NSW.

Action 1.2 Increase the amount and quality of publicly available information about water in NSW

The Government will continue to improve the quality and range of water-related information made publicly available and ensure it is easy to find, search and navigate. We will:

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

a.

provide easier access to information about how water is managed and how decisions are made, particularly decisions around future water availability

X

X

 

b.

improve data management, accessibility and transparency and take an open by default approach to information and data

X

X

 

c.

improve NSW’s public water registers to increase transparency (while protecting privacy).

X

X

Improve and expand water modelling capabilities

Water planning models help to inform most of the decisions in regional water management in NSW. These models use and produce extensive and detailed information on water availability and use across a range of climatic, development and regulatory conditions. This information could be used to great value in the wider community.

However, there is restricted access to this information (partly due to concerns about information that could be market sensitive) and limited broad understanding of how to correctly interpret this information. Providing greater access to water planning models and their outputs, along with explanatory materials, will help to unlock the value in these models and provide information that can help people and organisations outside government in their own understanding and decision-making around water management and use.

Departments, agencies, local water utilities and others rely on the information gained from different types of modelling to help them make decisions. Currently, different modelling platforms are used for different purposes, including:

  • river system models for water planning
  • river system modelling for operational decisions
  • groundwater (hydrogeological) models
  • floodplain modelling
  • estuary modelling
  • dam safety analysis (Probable Maximum Flood)
  • water utility secure yield analysis models
  • rainfall runoff models
  • water quality models
  • ecological models, including population models.

These models are developed on an as-needs basis, largely as standalone models to serve a one or more specific purposes. There is scope to link together these separate models and expand their purpose to answer a wider range of questions. There is also scope to provide public access to this data and the potential for open model access in the future.

Making the most of these models requires gaining acceptance that they are the best they can be with the available data and resources and that they conform with best practice guidelines and are subject to peer review and continual improvement. We will also need to design and implement new IT systems and governance arrangements to manage access to, and use of, models and modelled information.

Action 1.3 Enhance modelling capabilities and make more data and models openly available

To improve and expand our modelling capabilities and make more data, models and model outputs openly available, the Government will:

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

a.

develop best practice guidelines/Codes of Practice to ensure that all models are widely applicable, and that modelling is of the highest quality

X

  

b.

maximise the benefits from existing fit-for-purpose models by investigating how we can link these different models and expand their application

X

X

 

c.

identify opportunities to increase transparency in model methods and to make publicly available models and data that have been  peer reviewed and quality assured.

X

X

Demonstrate that rules are enforced

Communities across NSW need to have confidence that water plans and rules are being followed and enforced, and non-compliances addressed. Actions taken through the NSW Water Strategy will improve trust and confidence in the water sector and the water management framework.

Building an effective and trusted compliance regime

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) commenced operations in NSW on 30 April 2018 and has responsibility for enforcing water management legislation. The NRAR assists water users understand their obligations, actively monitors compliance with water plans and rules, and takes appropriate enforcement action where water use and access rules are breached.

Water users across NSW have demonstrated that they want the certainty and social licence that widespread compliance brings and have embraced the NRAR’s work. However, confusion can persist with some water users. The regulatory regime is complex, and the NRAR has observed that water users are often unsure of their obligations, including the interpretation of water sharing plan rules or the conditions on water access licences.

Action 1.4 Reinforce the effectiveness of the Natural Resources Access Regulator

The Government will continue to build the capacity of the NRAR to fulfil its role as a fair but firm regulator of water management and give the community confidence that water plans are implemented and rules are enforced. We will:

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

a.

undertake more extensive and effective promotion of the regulatory approach and actions of the NRAR

X

  

b.

clarify water user obligations and communicate them clearly, so that water sharing plans across the state more effectively underpin a modern and enforceable licensing system

X

X

 

c.

increase the NRAR’s use of and access to technology, such as remote sensors, satellite imagery and drones, enabling the NRAR to better direct its investigations and resources to address the instances of highest harm to water users and the environment.

X

X

Rebuilding trust in compliance

The NSW Government established the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) to crack down on illegal water use and rebuild trust in the community around water use and access.

Since its formation, the NRAR has launched 31 prosecutions in court and undertaken more than 1,100 individual compliance actions including 464 formal warnings, 379 statutory directions and 373 infringement notices. In 2019/20 alone, the NRAR investigated 1,367 cases, conducted 1,614 proactive compliance actions and initiated 118 enforcement actions.

Proactive compliance campaigns are run routinely alongside investigations of suspicious activity reported by the public. These reports are prioritised so that those with the potential to cause the most harm to waterways, water users or the environment are dealt with first. Currently, the NRAR’s investigators and compliance officers travel throughout the state’s 58 water sharing plan areas, inspecting properties and assessing compliance with water users’ licences and the Water Management Act 2000.

The NRAR regularly publishes reports on its activities and maintains a public register that details enforcement actions taken under the Water Management Act 2000 and prosecution outcomes. The NRAR is also developing a strategic engagement plan to make sure that water users understand their obligations and are aware of the consequences of non-compliance and the compliance approach of the regulator.

Regulating floodplain harvesting

Floodplain harvesting is the last major component of water take proposed to be brought within the licensing framework provided by the NSW Water Management Act 2000.

To protect the environment and downstream water users from the impact of unconstrained floodplain harvesting, the NSW Government introduced the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy in 2013 so that this form of water take could be regulated within legal limits. The regulation of floodplain harvesting will be given effect through amendments to relevant water sharing plans and the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.

Implementation of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy and the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy are essential to ensure that water taken in this way is accurately measured, fully accounted for, and regulated within legal limits.

Action 1.5 Take the final steps in floodplain harvesting reform

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

The Government will finalise floodplain harvesting reforms by issuing floodplain harvesting licences and amending draft water sharing and water resource plans to manage take within legal limits.

X

 

Reviewing domestic and stock basic landholder rights

Domestic and stock rights are one component of basic landholder rights under the Water Management Act 2000. These rights allow landholders whose properties are next to a river or on top of an underground water source to take water for domestic and stock watering purposes without the need for a licence or approval (although an approval is required to construct a dam or water bore).

The use of these rights is largely unregulated. There is no limit on the volume of water that may be taken or guidelines about how the right can be used (other than the definitions of domestic consumption and stock watering provided for in s.52 of the Act). However, a basic landholder right cannot be traded.

Several reviews have pointed to regulating domestic and stock basic landholder rights as a logical next step towards improving water management in NSW. The Murray-Darling Basin Water Compliance Review noted that these rights are often poorly understood and there is no requirement to report water take and no compliance program around the use of these rights. It recommended that all Basin governments ‘audit water take by stock and domestic and other rights holders to identify areas of stress on water resources from the exercise of these rights, and put in place measures to monitor compliance’.

The Independent Panel Assessment of the Management of the 2020 Northern Basin First Flush Event also recommended that NSW needed a better understanding of volumetric requirements for domestic and stock basic landholder rights so these can be factored into planning and preparation for such events.

Recent droughts have raised further issues around the way water is extracted and used under domestic and stock basic landholder rights during extreme dry periods.

Action 1.6 Review the regulation of domestic and stock basic landholder rights

The Government will review and consult with the community about how domestic and stock basic landholder rights are regulated. We will:

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

a.

review the current situation to better understand how much water take is occurring under domestic and stock basic landholder rights and whether this is creating risks in particular areas or circumstances

X

  

b.

consult with the community on options for improving understanding of domestic and stock basic landholder rights, and whether rules are required to better manage that form of water take and enhance the regulator’s (NRAR) ability to enforce compliance.

X

X

Make sure that water take is measured

Measuring non-urban water take ensures we know whether water is being taken according to the rules. Fully accounting for this resource and ensuring everyone is playing by the rules will become even more important in a more variable and changing climate.

The NSW Government is taking a leadership role when it comes to improving the standard, coverage and transparency of measuring and monitoring non-urban water take. We will continue to demonstrate this leadership— giving water users and communities confidence
in water management and sharing arrangements across NSW.

Action 1.7 Make sure the majority of non-urban water take in NSW is accurately measured

The Government will ensure that the vast majority of non-urban water take, including floodplain harvesting, in NSW is measured by accurate, auditable and tamper-proof meters. Key milestones for delivering this action are:

Actions

Horizon 1

Horizon 2

Horizon 3

Non-urban water metering rules

  • 1 December 2020—compliance date for pumps greater than 500 mm
  • 1 December 2021—compliance date for all other works in northern inland region
  • 1 December 2022—compliance date for all other works in southern inland region
  • 1 December 2023—compliance date for all other works in coastal regions.

X

X

 

Floodplain harvesting measurement rules

  • January to May 2022—compliance date for large storages (1,000 ML or greater)
  • 1 July 2022—compliance date for all other storages.

X

 

Playing by the rules

Most water users do the right thing and they—and the broader community—expect those who don’t to be held accountable.

Across NSW, new rules are being rolled out to significantly improve metering and measuring of non-urban water take. Development of these rules was a key commitment of the NSW Government’s 2017 Water Reform Action Plan and the Murray–Darling Basin Compliance Compact.

The new non-urban metering rules became law in December 2018 and will take effect in a staged roll-out between 2020 and 2023. The rules will ensure that more than 95% of licensed non-urban water take capacity is measured accurately. NSW is also establishing a robust regime for measuring and monitoring the water take from floodplain harvesting.

The new rules are based on ‘internet of things’ telemetry technology, allowing information about water use to be transmitted in near real time to government agencies and water users. In the short term, this technology will drive efficiencies in the way government undertakes its regulatory, billing, river management and water planning functions.

It will also pave the way to expanded functions over time, such as:

  • increased automation of compliance and enforcement functions
  • integration with other systems to implement water management rules, such as active management of environmental flows and water modelling
  • supporting more publicly accessible information about water take
  • integration with automated on farm infrastructure, such as a ‘remote’ on and off switches for pumps, soil moisture probes and weather stations.

Over time - as the costs of metering and telemetry technology decrease, and the benefits to government, water users and the general community increase - it is reasonable to expect that NSW will achieve near universal uptake of telemetry-enabled metering equipment.

Importantly, the new rules are driving an increase in the size, maturity and technological sophistication of the water metering industry, creating jobs and export opportunities and driving competition and innovation that will deliver further benefits to NSW and Australia.