Key challenges and opportunities
Water is the lifeblood of our cities and regional communities and the industries that support them. The NSW economy is forecast to grow to about $2 trillion by 2040 with about two thirds of this economic growth coming from Greater Sydney. Confidence about the security of Greater Sydney’s water supply is essential to supporting and sustaining this economic growth.
Water-dependent industries such as agriculture, food processing and mining are also major contributors to the NSW economy, and the NSW Government is prioritising economic and employment growth in regional areas. Water is also critical to support tourism in some regions - both for sustaining landscapes and waterways and for supporting the additional demand that tourism places on town water supplies.
Supporting economic growth and industry development in a system where water entitlements are capped, and water availability year on year is variable, presents clear challenges.
There are opportunities to use the available water more efficiently and to support the uses of water that bring the highest return to regional and metropolitan communities. This includes the ongoing investigation of, and investment in, storages and pipelines to increase water security for regional communities and licence holders.
Water is essential for agriculture
The gross value of agricultural production in NSW in 2017/18 was $13.2 billion with approximately 27,000 agricultural business participating in the sector. The production of meat, sheep and other livestock accounted for $5.9 billion. Irrigated agriculture contributed $4.4 billion to the gross value of agricultural production with cotton accounting for 35%, fruit and nuts 12% and nurseries and cut flowers 10%.
Australia’s agricultural sector is positioned to take advantage of increasing global demand for high quality produce. Proximity to Asian markets is an important factor as Australia’s agricultural sector looks to grow from $60 billion of farm gate returns in 2019 to $100 billion by 2030 (National Farmers Federation 2030 Roadmap).
The role of water in driving the tourism economy in regional NSW
Water holds significant opportunities for tourism and recreation in NSW, particularly in recreational fishing, marine-based tourism and swimming.
NSW offers a highly unique fishing experience, with a range of freshwater Australian sportfish such as Murray Cod, Golden Perch and Australian Bass. Many of our native species cannot be found in wild populations anywhere else in the world.
In 2017/18, an estimated $2.2 billion was spent on recreational fishing trips. This expenditure generates about $3.4 billion of economic activity in NSW each year.
Marine based tourism, such as canoe and kayak trails on the Clarence River, Murrumbidgee River, Macquarie River, Tumut River and Hawkesbury Nepean River System offer opportunities for tourists to enjoy various destinations and adventure experiences. Naturally heated thermal baths in towns such as Lightning Ridge, Burren Junction and Walgett, fed by bore water from the Great Artesian Basin, offer a distinctive experience in north west NSW.
The mining sector’s role in regional economies
The mining industry has been, and will continue to be, a key industry in many regional areas and the broader NSW economy. In 2019/20, the export value of NSW’s mineral and processed metal product (including aluminium) was around $23.9 billion, which is 47% of the state’s merchandise export revenue. The industry contributed around $1.7 billion in royalties and, as at the end of June 2020, directly employed around 30,200 people and 121,000 people indirectly through mine and non-mine related services (Mining, Exploration and Geoscience 2020, Coal Services 2020, ABS 2020).
Water is essential to mining operations. It is used in processing plants, transporting material and dust mitigation on site. Mines have invested significantly in water efficiency and recycling measures. Mining operations now typically recycle about 50% of water consumed onsite and the level of reuse and recycling of water is growing.
During the most recent drought, several NSW mines faced the real possibility of suspending mining operations due to lack of water but ultimately were able to continue operating.
This was due mainly to accessing water stored in old underground workings and implementation of water reuse systems.
The mining industry is often able to use alternative lower quality sources of water, such as highly saline water or town wastewater as in Newcrest’s Cadia Operation. Where required, mines have water treatment plants to ensure water being discharged is of high quality. This has led to significant advancement in water treatment technologies in Australia.
Case study: Regional NSW Special Activation Precincts
The Department of Regional NSW is embracing efficient water use in the design of its Special Activation Precincts (SAPs). There are currently five designated SAPs in regional NSW:
- Wagga Wagga - World-class business precinct in the Riverina
- Parkes - NSW’s first inland port - the new epicentre of the nation’s freight network
- Moree - Taking Australia’s agriculture to the world
- Snowy Mountains - Australia’s alpine and adventure playground
- Williamtown - The future of aerospace and defence industries.
SAPs are large, integrated planning and infrastructure projects and have been selected with the potential to activate significant regional economic development and jobs creation. All precincts are master planned with a 40-year vision and apply a mandate of water
sustainability, with specific designs tailored to the needs of each precinct. SAP water efficiency design features include:
- retention of stormwater for reuse
- recycled water networks
- development controls covering quality of water runoff.
The technical studies that inform each Master Plan consider the potential increased demand for water resources as a result of development within the SAP. This analysis has regard to industries that are expected to expand or establish in the SAP. The master planning process also considers any policy, operational and infrastructure settings that may need to be changed to cater for any future changes in water supply and demand.
Action 5.5 Investigate causes of underuse and develop options to bring use back up to cap
The Government will further investigate issues of water availability and consult with the community through the regional water strategies for the Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys.