A NSW Government website

Regional water strategies in New South Wales

Frequently asked questions

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment brings together specialists in urban and regional planning, natural resources, industry, environment, heritage, Aboriginal and social housing, and regional New South Wales.

General

What are the regional water strategies?

The Department is preparing 12 regional water strategies and a Greater Sydney Water Strategy. The strategies look to the next 20 to 40 years to understand how we will need to manage water across the region to meet future needs. They will also consider the challenges and choices involved in meeting those needs, and the actions we can take to manage emerging trends and risks.

The strategies bring together the most up-to-date information and evidence with all the tools we have: policy, regulatory, educational, technology and infrastructure solutions in an integrated package.

What are the objectives of the regional water strategies?

The regional water strategies will set out a long-term roadmap of actions to deliver five objectives for each region:

  1. Deliver and manage water for local communities
    Improve water security, water quality and flood management for regional towns and communities.
  2. Enable economic prosperity
    Improve water access reliability for regional industries.
  3. Recognise and protect Aboriginal water rights, interests and access to water
    Including Aboriginal heritage assets.
  4. Protect and enhance the environment
    Improve the health and integrity of environmental systems and assets, including by improving water quality.
  5. Affordability
    Identify least cost policy and infrastructure options.
Why are the strategies being developed now?

Secure, reliable and resilient water sources are critical to regional communities in NSW. The NSW Government is using funds from the $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund to invest in water security in NSW.

The NSW State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038 recommended reducing the potential effects of climate change on the management of water, improving water security, and improving drinking water quality for regional towns.

The regional water strategies will help provide long-term, tailored water management solutions for our regional communities, using the best available information on climate variability and other key water security risks.

How often will the strategies be reviewed?

Once the regional water strategies are finalised, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will develop a monitoring and evaluation program to ensure that the strategies are being delivered and are achieving their intended outcomes. The monitoring and evaluation program will include:

  • Monitoring progress of actions and recommendations. Adjustments will be made as required to ensure the overarching objective and outcomes of the regional water strategies are achieved.
  • Evaluating outcomes against baseline information.
  • Reporting outcomes, with the findings and recommendations of the program being publicly released at regular intervals and then used to improve implementation of the regional water strategies.

Changes to the strategy’s key underlying trends and assumptions (such as regional population trends, industry profile, further improvements in climate modelling and major water infrastructure investments), may also trigger the need for a review.

How do I find out which regional water strategy region I live in?

The water strategy regions are:

  • Greater Hunter
  • Macquarie-Castlereagh
  • Lachlan
  • Gwydir
  • Far North Coast
  • Border Rivers
  • North Coast
  • South Coast
  • Namoi
  • Western
  • Murrumbidgee
  • Murray

Water strategy regions

Regional water strategies and their relationship to other plans

How do regional water strategies relate to other strategies (including the State Water Strategy), and plans and other programs, including water sharing plans and water resource plans?

State Water Strategy

The department is also developing a State Water Strategy, addressing water management objectives and principles to apply across NSW. Regional water strategies will underpin the State Water Strategy by providing a roadmap to implement our vision and objectives for water in each region. Where regional water strategies identify options that are applicable across NSW, these options may be incorporated in the State Water Strategy.

Water sharing plans

The NSW Water Management Act 2000 (the Act) establishes the framework for sharing water between the environment and water users who have a basic right to water and licensed water users and sets out priorities for water access.

NSW water sharing plans [1] then set the rules for how water is shared between the environment and water users, and set the limits on water extraction, defining when, where and how much water can be taken. Water sharing plans exist for a 10-year period, at the end of which time they are replaced, with or without changes.

[1]www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/water-sharing-plans

Water resource plans

In the Murray–Darling Basin[1], the Commonwealth Basin Plan 2012 [2] provides a further level of regulation. It sets the limits on how much water can be extracted from water sources in the Basin over the long term. It includes requirements for no net reduction in the protection of planned environmental water and sets water sharing arrangements between the states.

The twenty draft water resource plans [3] developed for NSW play an integral role in implementing the Basin Plan and set out arrangements for sharing water, meeting environmental and water quality objectives, and taking into account potential and emerging risks to water resources. They incorporate the water sharing arrangements implemented through water sharing plans.

[1]www.mdba.gov.au/discover-basin

[2]www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2018C00451

[3]www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/water-resource-plans

Relationship between regional water strategies, water sharing plans and water resource plans

The relationship between regional water strategies, water sharing plans and water resource plans.

Figure 1. Relationship between regional water strategies, water sharing plans and water resource plans.

Regional water strategies also consider other existing plans and policies that are relevant to our management of water resources. Some of these plans and policies apply specifically to the Murray–Darling Basin or coastal areas.

In the Murray–Darling Basin, the regional water strategies will need to consider several additional regulatory requirements:

  • The Murray–Darling Basin Plan sets the limits on how much water can be extracted from water sources in the Basin over the long term, requirements for no net reduction in planned environmental water and no growth in water use, and water sharing arrangements between states.
  • Water resource plans play an integral role in implementing the Basin Plan and set out arrangements for sharing water, meeting environmental and water quality objectives and considering potential and emerging risks to water resources. In the Murray–Darling Basin, water sharing plans are a component of water resource plans.
  • NSW long-term water plans show how we will meet our environmental water objectives for aquatic-dependent assets and species.
  • Water quality management plans provide a framework for how we will meet our water quality and salinity objectives.
  • The NSW Extreme Events Policy and incident response guides establish the principles by which all water resources within the NSW Murray–Darling Basin are managed during an extreme event (such as drought).

In coastal areas, there are additional considerations for regional water strategies:

  • The NSW Sea Level Rise Policy Statement and the NSW Coastal Policy provide guidance on how to address the effects of rising sea levels.
  • The Marine Estate Management Strategy considers the influence of river flows and water quality on estuaries and coastal environments.

Find out more about the relationship between regional water strategies and water sharing plans.

Will water sharing plans change because of regional water strategies?

Regional water strategies will inform future changes to water sharing plans, and this may include:

  • revising water sharing rules based on advances in our understanding of climate variability and climate change risks
  • establishing rules to implement an approved policy or infrastructure solution in a strategy. For example, if we invest in a new dam, we also need to make water sharing rules for who benefits from the water in the dam and how the dam should be operated.
Will you open up water sharing plans even if they are not due to expire?

The timing of any potential changes to a water sharing plan would consider:

  • detailed engagement with the community
    New water sharing plan changes that have the potential to affect the community, licence holders or the environment need to be developed through a transparent process with detailed public consultation.
  • the timing for reviewing and remaking a water sharing plan
    During the 10-year period when a water sharing plan is in place, the scope for making changes to the plan is limited by the Water Management Act 2000 and the plan rules.
  • whether the change is in the public interest and warrants being made under the Act before the 10-year remake of the water sharing plan
  • whether the water sharing plan is part of a water resource plan within the Murray–Darling Basin, as any changes will need to be accredited by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority.
  • requirements under any planning approvals that may be required.

The Water Management Act 2000 and water sharing plans limit the types of changes which can be made to a water sharing plan for the 10-year period while the plan is in force. This provides certainty to water users in the plan area, which is important to enable them to plan their business activities.

Why weren’t regional water strategies developed before water sharing plans expired? Are water sharing plans now locked in for 10 years?

Regional water strategies are incorporating new, cutting-edge science. This new information and science is being developed as we speak, and will continue to be refined and added to. We are publishing this information as we get it.

The information being used to develop the regional water strategies was not available when the water sharing plans were being amended as part of the Basin Plan requirements. Other water sharing plans are coming up for review now and in coming years, and will be informed by their relevant regional water strategy.

The 10-year water sharing plan period provides certainty to water users about water sharing rules over the period of the plan. This certainty is critically important for business planning.

However, some regional water strategy options may need to trigger an early change to the water sharing plan. We need to balance the need for certainty with the public interest and incorporating new evidence as that evidence becomes available and is tested.

How are regional water strategies different to integrated water cycle management plans (IWCMs)?

Regional water strategies are the region- or catchment-wide strategic plans. They look at ways to achieve water security across multiple councils and the entire catchment.

Integrated water cycle management strategies are local planning instruments, designed to meet the needs of individual councils and local water utilities.

Integrated water cycle management strategies are developed by local water utilities, and are the 30-year strategic planning instrument that:

  • addresses all water security, water quality and sewerage service risks in the utility’s town water systems
  • sets service levels, and associated investment priorities and price paths in consultation with the community
  • includes an asset and financial management plan
  • includes drought contingency and emergency response plans.

The IWCM provides an opportunity to identify the local risks to water services and options to address those risks.

Through the Safe and Secure Water Program, the NSW Government is co-funding:

  • development of integrated water cycle management strategies, recognising the importance of strategic planning to finding solutions to address risks and provide services at adequate standards
  • investment in infrastructure to address high-priority water security risks for local water utilities
  • joint organisation-led regional water supply strategies to help councils identify, analyse and plan for regional town water supply solutions.
How do regional water strategies and integrated water cycle management plans inform each other?

Where available, integrated water cycle management strategies inform the regional water strategies on:

  • water security service levels of individual towns and communities based on existing operations in average, wet and dry climate conditions
  • options to improve water security, or the quality of the water supplied.

The regional water strategies will inform integrated water cycle management strategies on:

  • likely reliability of available water across more climate scenarios, and effects at a broad regional scale (but not specifically for each local water utility’s water supply system or existing operations)
  • options to address the utility’s broader water security issues.
Can local water utilities use the new climate data in the development of their IWCMs?

The NSW Government sets guidelines for local water utilities to assess the security of their water supplies.

Regional water strategy data and modelling can be used to stress-test and undertake additional water security sensitivity analysis by local water utilities when developing the IWCMs.

However, the regional water strategy climate data is focused at a regional scale. It does not consider local water utilities’ water security service levels, operating rules, and all the water supply infrastructure available in each system.

Local water utilities will still need to undertake their secure yield analysis in accordance with the Assuring Future Water Security Guidelines.

When will local water utilities get access to the regional water strategies climate data?

The department’s intention is to make the climate data available to local water utilities in a format that can be useful. However, going through and developing this format will take time.

Local water utilities staff can contact their Utilities Regional Operations Manager at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment—Water to seek guidance on the provision of this information.

Consultation and webinars

Who has the department consulted with to date?

The NSW Government has been consulting on an ongoing basis in recent years about:

  • water sharing plans
  • water resource plans
  • metering reforms
  • floodplain harvesting
  • environmental water management
  • drought responses.

Through those processes, we have heard many ideas about how to be better prepared for future droughts and floods, and a more variable climate.

We are also talking with local councils, joint organisations, local water utilities, Aboriginal peak bodies and Aboriginal community groups about regional water strategies. These discussions have informed the preparation of the draft regional water strategies and the identification and development of options for each region.

An extensive engagement program supports the regional water strategies, with four phases planned for the development of each strategy:

  1. initial discussions with Aboriginal peak groups as well as councils, local water utilities, joint organisations and Aboriginal communities in each region, as well as briefing of statewide peak groups
  2. public exhibition of the draft regional water strategy
  3. further targeted engagement with Aboriginal peak bodies, councils, local water utilities and joint organisations and Aboriginal communities in each region
  4. public release of the final regional water strategy.

We have included descriptions of targeted engagement activities within each region and the ideas, concerns and issues raised during this consultation in each draft regional water strategy.

Where possible, we have linked our engagement program to other engagement activities being undertaken by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment e.g. Healthy Floodplains.

How have Aboriginal communities been consulted?

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment recognises that our engagement with Aboriginal people and communities on water issues has not been adequate in the past. To change this, we are starting a new partnership approach for the development and implementation of the regional water strategies.

We have been working with an Aboriginal water advisory group – the Aboriginal Water Coalition – to provide advice during development of the strategies. The group has representatives from peak Aboriginal organisations including:

  • the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC)
  • Native Title Services Corporation (NTSCORP)
  • Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN)
  • Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN)
  • along with representatives from Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

We are also building on our prior work with Aboriginal communities. For example, Basin Aboriginal nations have expressed their aspirations through the First Nations engagement process for the water resource plans.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected community consultation for the program?

Our engagement approach has been adapted to reflect the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions as set out by the Australian Government from March 2020. We have changed how we will engage with our stakeholders and communities by replacing face-to-face consultation with virtual, online and contactless methods.

In each region we will be providing:

  • a limited amount of ‘on ground’ meetings, with COVID-19 safety measures in place
  • webinars
  • one-on-one phone calls including a survey
  • ‘Have your say website’, including collecting public submissions
  • ‘What We Heard’ reports and submission summaries.

We have been advised by the Aboriginal Water coalition that face-to-face engagement with Aboriginal people is preferable and, in light of COVID-19, we should pause our engagement until restrictions ease. All planned face-to-face meetings with Aboriginal communities in the Gwydir, Macquarie–Castlereagh and Lachlan regions occurred before COVID-19 restrictions, enabling these documents to proceed to public exhibition.

We will continue to work with the Aboriginal Water coalition to plan engagement across all the regions.

The COVID-19 engagement approach will be reviewed when the Australian Government provides more details regarding the lifting of restrictions.

What is the difference between each webinar? Which one(s) should I attend?

There are two live webinars you may like to participate in for each of the priority regions.

In the first live webinar, we will explain:

  • what regional water strategies are
  • how they have been developed
  • how they relate to water sharing plans and water resource plans.

We will share with you the draft long-list of options that has been developed to help address region specific challenges and opportunities. We will also reveal some results from our new climate modelling process, and advise how you can have your say.

In the second live webinar, we will explain the climate data modelling process and the findings, before examining the draft long-list of options in detail. We will reiterate how you can have your say.

During both webinars, there will be time for questions. You may choose which webinar(s) you wish to register for, depending on your interest.

Before attending the regional specific webinars, we recommend you watch our pre-recorded video, which provides an overview of the regional water strategies.

I can’t attend the webinars at the times promoted. Can I watch them at another time?

Yes. All webinars will be recorded and available on the website to view at a later time.

Do I need to register for a webinar?

If you are planning to attend a live webinar, you will need to register.

I’m having technical issues and can’t access the webinars. Can someone help me?

Yes. Please call Redback Conferencing on 1800 733 416.

Aboriginal values and rights

How have Aboriginal water rights, interests and access to water been considered in the planning of the strategies?

Aboriginal peak groups were involved in advising us on how to engage with Aboriginal people in targeted areas. There were a range of attendees from grassroots to delegates from larger organisations. We held meetings to discuss regional water strategies and cultural water rights across each area.

Departmental Aboriginal cultural officers and Aboriginal facilitators helped run the meetings in an inclusive and culturally appropriate way. This ensured throughout each stage everybody had an equal and fair opportunity to discuss cultural water rights and their interests in regional water strategies.

The feedback from Aboriginal people during consultation has guided the development of the strategies. We have captured what we heard about their challenges, opportunities and possible solutions in the strategies. We have also considered existing programs such as River Rangers and what we have heard in past water consultations.

Options

Where can I find information on what projects and/or initiatives are being considered for the strategies?
Can you explain the options assessment process?

We have developed a decision-making process for the strategies to help identify options that meet one or more of our objectives and then combine them in a way that maximises the value of the region’s water resources, now and for the future. This process will use the best and latest evidence, and a range of assessment tools to identify risks and opportunities associated with each option. It will assess individual options and packages of options in a transparent and consistent way.

The process is consistent with the NSW Government’s policies for evidence-based decision-making and economic analysis. It is also consistent with the objectives of the NSW Water Management Act 2000 and with other policy obligations, including the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

The decision-making process has four broad stages:

  1. filter the options
  2. understand risks and challenges, and then shortlist options
  3. create portfolios of options
  4. recommend final portfolio of options.

The options assessment process will determine which portfolios could:

  • generate the most value for the region
  • be implemented as planned, delivered to time and budget, and produce the expected benefits.
How will these projects and/or initiatives be funded?

The regional water strategies will recommend projects and/or initiatives for a region. The NSW Government can decide to adopt any or all of these recommendations. Progression of a project and/or initiative will be subject to planning, prioritisation, delivery and funding considerations in line with the strategic direction set out in the NSW State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038.

What is the proposed review of surface water accounting and allocation? What are the implications of this option?

The intent of this option is to more effectively meet water needs for basic landholder rights, stock and domestic water users, Aboriginal cultural needs and high-priority users in the Gwydir (with an additional buffer to support town water security).

This option would review several settings within the current surface water accounting and water allocation process including:

  • reviewing water allocation process
  • updating the ‘worst inflow sequence’ to incorporate climate change considerations
  • investigating changes to the volume of water stored in Copeton Dam for regional towns and stock and domestic water users
  • investigating how ‘conveyance losses’ are accounted for
  • investigating provisions for cultural flows.

This option could be combined with other water efficiency and policy options.

Gwydir Regional Water Strategy

What are the impacts of the Tareelaroi Weir enlargement project on downstream users, landholders and the environment?

This option will require assessment against updated floodplain harvesting, climate and environmental water models. The benefits of this option may change when assessed against the updated models. Considerations include:

  • potential effects on cultural heritage sites
  • changes to flow patterns and planned environmental water
  • distribution of benefits amongst consumptive water users and the environment
  • compliance with the Murray–Darling Basin baseline diversion limit
  • potential effects on general security, supplementary and future floodplain harvesting licence holders
  • potential impacts on the sustainable diversion limit
  • effects on connectivity including fish passage, native fish, ecological communities and ecosystems, along with the outcomes of the Gwydir Long-term Water Plan
  • amendments to the water sharing plan
  • potential cold-water pollution.

A range of mitigation measures including biodiversity offsets, environmental flows and fish passage may be required. Enlargement of the weir will reduce waterway connectivity and fish passage regardless of whether a fishway is included within the design.

What are the effects of the construction of the New Lower Gravesend Dam on downstream users, landholders and the environment?

This option will require assessment against updated floodplain harvesting, climate and environmental water models. The benefits of this option may change when assessed against the updated models. Considerations include:

  • potential impacts on cultural heritage sites
  • inundation impacts on landholders in the immediate vicinity
  • changes to flow patterns and planned environmental water
  • potential cold-water pollution
  • distribution of benefits amongst consumptive water users and the environment
  • compliance with the Murray–Darling Basin baseline diversion limit
  • potential effects on general security, supplementary and future floodplain harvesting licence holders
  • potential effects on the sustainable diversion limit
  • effects on connectivity including fish passage, native fish, ecological communities and ecosystems, along with the outcomes of the Gwydir Long-term Water Plan
  • amendments to the water sharing plan.

A range of mitigation measures including biodiversity offsets, environmental flows and fish passage will be required. Full effects on native fish outcomes are unlikely to be fully offset or mitigated.

Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy

Is the Macquarie re-regulating weir a done deal?

No. The NSW Government has committed to developing a business case to explore the option of constructing a new, re-regulating gated weir and fishway structure on the Macquarie River. The preferred option will also undergo further assessment with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) involving technical, hydrological, environmental, biodiversity, cultural and economic feasibility studies, and further stakeholder consultation.

What are the impacts of the Narromine–Nyngan pipeline project in the lower Macquarie?

WaterNSW is undertaking two related drought security studies in the Macquarie–Castlereagh region. These are the:

  • Drought Relief Strategy, which is developing drought relief solutions for the townships of Macquarie Valley that will avoid towns failure in current and future droughts
  • Nyngan and Cobar Drought Security project, which is considering the development of infrastructure to ensure that Nyngan and Cobar do not run out of water during the current drought.

WaterNSW is consulting with councils on these two projects and no decisions have been made on the preferred option or options at this stage.

What is happening with the water entitlements from Wallerawang power station?

The water needs of communities and industry in the upper Macquarie (unregulated) system are undergoing significant change with the growth of cities like Orange and Bathurst, changed water management from mine operations and the closure of the Wallerawang power station, which is associated with a large water entitlement.

The Draft Macquarie Regional Water Strategy includes an option to conduct a Regional Towns Water study to identify options to improve water security for towns that rely on water from the upper Macquarie (unregulated) system, which include Bathurst, Orange, Oberon, Lithgow and Sydney Water between Katoomba and Mt Victoria. The study would take a strategic approach establishing the current and future needs of water users in the system and holistically examine the range of options to improve water security for the towns.

Lachlan Regional Water Strategy

What are the effects of the Wyangala dam raising project on downstream users, landholders and the environment?

WaterNSW has been tasked by the NSW and Australian governments to deliver the Wyangala Wall Raising Project. Raising Wyangala dam wall and increasing the storage capacity will substantially contribute to improving water security and drought resilience for the Lachlan Valley. The project includes:

  • raising of the embankment and downstream rockfill to add an additional 650 GL of storage
  • raising the spillway and intake towers of the dam by a nominal 10 m.

Environmental impact assessments are currently underway. An environmental impact statement process with formal public consultation, as part of normal planning and development processes, will be undertaken in early to mid-2021.

While this is a project listed under the Water Supply (Critical Needs) Act 2019, it does not preclude it from undertaking environmental, heritage and planning assessment. WaterNSW are committed to understanding, reducing and offsetting the environmental impacts of the project including those related to inundation of property, changes to flow regimes which flush the bottom of the system and provide water to wetlands, and effects on native fish passage.

What are the effects of the Lake Rowlands to Carcoar Dam pipeline project on downstream users, landholders and the environment?

The NSW Government has committed to developing a business case to explore the option of building a water transfer pipeline from the Central Tablelands Water-operated Lake Rowlands Dam to the larger WaterNSW-operated Carcoar Dam. The preferred option will also undergo further assessment with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) involving technical, hydrological, environmental, biodiversity, cultural and economic feasibility studies, and further stakeholder consultation.

What is involved in the Lower Lachlan efficiency measure proposal? What are the effects on downstream users, landholders and environment?

The ‘Lower Lachlan efficiency measure’ proposal would investigate opportunities for a more efficient alternative water supply to landholders (including stock and domestic users) in the lower Lachlan region (along the Muggabah, Merrimajeel, Merrowie, Booberoi and Willandra creeks). In particular, the option would consider replacing current replenishment flows in these creeks with a piped scheme and the development of groundwater sources to meet demand and thereby reducing transmission losses.

The full effect of the proposal would need to be investigated. During consultation on WaterNSW’s Lachlan valley water security study, landholders raised concerns about alternative water delivery arrangements. In addition, the construction of a piped scheme would remove replenishment flows from these creeks and the creeks could dry out during periods of low rainfall. These creeks provide important environmental and cultural functions. The effects of removing replenishment flows on ecosystems, native fish and native plants and animals needs to be further investigated. Effects on groundwater sources, including to recharge, would also need to be assessed.

Namoi Regional Water Strategy

Will the Dungowan Business Case papers be published?

Business cases are not generally published in NSW as they typically include Cabinet and commercially sensitive information. However, the key elements of the options analysis will be available in the Environmental Impact Statement which will be publicly available. There will also be a summary of the business case outcomes made publicly available.

Climate data and modelling

On the development of new data

As part of the development of the regional water strategies, new, state-of-the-art climate data has been prepared to give an improved understanding of climate variability and change. The NSW Government has invested heavily in the preparation of this data across regional NSW to give us a much better understanding of the likelihood of droughts and floods than we have ever had available to us before.

In the past, regional water management decisions have been based on 130 years of climatic data. This means that many of the planning decisions are made around a small number of historic droughts. Recent conditions in many parts of the state have been more severe than anything seen in these climate records. This has meant that our towns and high-security needs have been at risk.

The new data brings together information from:

  • the recorded data
  • paleoclimate records (which is information before historical records began) such as tree rings, ice cores and limestone deposits.

Combined with an understanding of the drivers of climate in NSW, this data will give us the ability to understand the level of risk to our towns and high-security users better than previously possible.

The new data also gives us the opportunity to understand the potential effects of human-induced climate change on our water resources.

What is the new climate data being used to inform the strategies?

Until now, water management decisions in NSW and across the Murray–Darling Basin have been based on adaptive management principles and on the historical record of climate conditions going back to the 1890s, about 130 years of rainfall, temperature and evaporation data. Concerns are growing that changes in climate arising from higher greenhouse gas emissions may make droughts more severe. There is also increasing evidence of longer droughts in the last millennium. Using a relatively short period of historical data alone provides only a limited understanding of extreme events.

New scientific methods have been developed that augment the historical record and provide a much-improved basis for characterising future climate risks to our ongoing water security.

To prepare the regional water strategies, the NSW Government has invested in new methods and data to develop a more sophisticated depiction of climatic conditions, including the likely frequency and duration of future droughts. This new data is created by integrating recorded historical data with paleoclimate data (data reconstructed from before instrumental records began, using sources such as tree rings, cave deposits and coral growth). Combining these two elements gives us 500 years of climate data.

We can then apply a stochastic modelling method (based on the statistical characteristics of the extended data) to get a dataset covering up to 10,000 years. This allows us to quantify the natural variability and extremes (drought and flood) in our regions since the last major global climate shift with more certainty than was previously possible. We have combined this with an understanding of key climate drivers and the use of existing climate projections to provide guidance on how natural climate variability and extremes may be influenced by future climate changes.

Bringing together climate variability data and climate change projections in this way greatly enhances our ability to identify plausible future climate impacts and risks. It represents a significant and important advance in water planning and management for NSW. It means that we have moved from making decisions that are heavily based on single ‘worst-case’ scenarios drawn from a short climatic record to a much more accurate understanding of extreme events, normal climate conditions and everything in between.

Why do we need new climate data; can’t we just use our historical measured data?

Our observed climate information (especially rainfall, temperature) has only been measured for about 130 years. Over this time, we have seen some droughts and wet periods. But those observations don’t tell us about all of the possible droughts or wet periods that we could experience in the future, only those that have happened in just 130 years.

Our new method adds 500 years of climate history to our knowledge by analysing things such as tree rings, river sediments and ice cores that have spent a long time in our landscape and carry tell-tale marks of events and changes in climate.This gives us a much better idea of possible climate patterns and variability in the future.

We also need to take account of possible changes to our historical climate patterns—even 500 years’ worth—due to climate change. The new method includes global and regional climate change projections.

Why do we need to consider climate change in our strategies?

Our regional water strategies firstly need to consider our knowledge of historical climate variability and what drives different patterns of variability. But under a changing climate, some of the drivers of our climate variability are changing and we need to also consider the influence and risks of such changes to our water availability.

The challenge in responding to climate change is that there are still uncertainties about how quickly changes will happen or what our responses might be to reduce the negative effects of any changes.

We need to understand how climate change might influence the risks to our water security and water availability in the future. We use the data from global and regional climate models to stress- test our water systems to see how they might be affected. We want to know the areas that could be the most vulnerable to climate change so we can focus on ensuring their future water security.

Does the new method mean we will run out of water sooner?

No, the new method only tells us what might happen under different scenarios of climate risk. This varies across different regions of NSW. More work is required to apply the new climate data to our understanding of groundwater systems to determine how secure groundwater supplies will be in the future.

Our new method indicates that the runoff that comes from rainfall and fills the dams may not happen as often, or we may not see the same amount of runoff as we currently do. Understanding this now means we can plan to deal with these situations should they eventuate. This might mean looking for alternative water supplies, changing how we use water, or looking at different ways of sharing the available water.

Why do we need models to understand our water security?

Models are tools that we use to understand complex systems. We can use them to simulate many different scenarios of climate risk and rapidly see possible outcomes.

Models are very useful for understanding huge amounts of data across long periods of time or for large areas. They can be tailored to specific NSW regions to give more detailed and relevant data.

But to be effective, models first need to be carefully set up and tested to check how good they are at predicting the measured data we already know (that is, 130 years of observed climate; 500 years of paleoclimate). We can then use them for forecasting the future climates we don’t know, including understanding long-term changes, or different scenarios of change.

What are global climate models?

Global climate models (GCMs) seek to represent the different physical processes of weather and climate. Building and running a climate model means representing physical processes using complex mathematical equations. Variables are then set to represent initial conditions and subsequent changes in climate. Powerful supercomputers then repeatedly solve the equations.

We can tell how good a GCM might be by seeing how well it describes historical and current weather and climate. They have proven to be effective at predicting temperature, and therefore evaporation, but there is much more uncertainty in predicting rainfall.

Global climate models predict the whole world, which means their predictions for regional and local climate is less precise. We use regional climate models to provide more detailed estimates of rainfall over different regions of NSW.

Why isn’t this modelling being incorporated into water sharing plans and water resource plans?

Water sharing plans and water resource plans are currently based on historical climate records. The new climate modelling results are different to the historic climate records, and incorporating the new climate modelling into water sharing plans and water resource plans would be a significant change.

Before making such a change, we need to have an open and transparent conversation with the community about the merits of including the new climate modelling results in water sharing plans. We need to consider how that can be done, and the use of a risk-based approach. We need to be clear about the benefits and effects of allocating water based on likely future risks rather than historical drought scenarios, and what this will mean for towns, licence holders and the environment.

This government is committed to undertake this review as part of the Water Strategies program, and to considering how to use this to develop a new method for calculating allocations. However, this will take time, and significant community input about the level of risk for different categories of users. We want to understand the effects this could have on all parts of the community and the environment, we don’t want to rush and create new rules that could have unintended consequences.

Will this mean that the government will further reduce my licence reliability?

Our new climate modelling results indicate that, with climate change, there may be more times when the amount of water we currently have available to share cannot meet all of the needs of water users. We need to plan for such times by considering alternative water supplies, changing how we use water, or looking at different ways of sharing the available water. Regional water strategies recommend projects or initiatives to help us plan for such times.

What does this mean for town water security?

The new climate modelling results indicate that NSW’s surface water supplies are likely to be less secure than we thought. This level of security varies across different regions of NSW. More work is required to apply the new climate data to our understanding of groundwater systems to determine how secure groundwater supplies will be in the future.

Our new method indicates that the runoff that comes from rainfall and fills the dams and rivers may not happen as often, or we may not see the same amount of runoff as we currently do. Understanding this now means we can plan to deal with these situations should they eventuate. This might mean looking for alternative town water supplies, changing how we use reticulated water, or looking at different ways of sharing the available water.

Why aren’t regional water strategies looking at downstream impacts?

We are making sure that upstream catchments are analysed to inform downstream catchment strategy development. For example, the Namoi, Gwydir and Border Rivers regions are being analysed first to ensure analysis for the Western regional water strategy includes any upstream considerations. Likewise, the upstream catchments are considering downstream impacts such as connectivity during their analysis.

How confident are you in these results? Why are you publishing these results if there is a level of uncertainty?

The global and regional climate models produce projections of what may happen in the future under a number of different scenarios. They cannot predict exactly what will happen.

We look at the results from a range of independent, global climate models to understand what each one means for how our current climate may change. We use the models that provide the best estimates (based on how well they simulate current climate) for different areas of NSW.

We apply how much we know about how climate varies across different parts of NSW to refine global climate data to use with regional climate models.

The global and regional models don’t give us one answer. Instead, they give us predictions that we can use to explore the range of changes likely to happen in the future. We cannot be sure of any of the predictions, but they do give us the best guide we have of future climate risk.

The new method for generating climate data provides us with a much better understanding of the range of climate patterns we are likely to see in the future, what the future climate risks are and what that means for NSW’s water security. It gives us more confidence in considering future climate risks to NSW’s future water security compared to only considering 130 years of climate records. In particular, we now have a better understanding of the probability of future extremes of droughts and floods.

As a result, we can now base our regional water strategies on more rigorous knowledge about the likely climate risks to our water resources.

What is paleoclimate?

Paleoclimate is an estimate of what the climate was like before recorded measurements of climate were taken. To go beyond our 130 years of climate records and build a paleoclimate record, scientists investigate things that have spent a long time in our landscape: tree rings, cave stalactites and stalagmites, river sediments, soil patterns, and ice cores.

Paleoclimate scientists study these items to find out responses to past climate, such as increased tree ring growth during wetter periods, or for ice cores, different concentrations of sea salt, depending on whether it was drier or wetter. Ice cores are usually obtained from areas on and around Antarctica, where research has shown strong relationships between Australia’s past climates and different characteristics of the ice.

Using paleoclimate research, we can extend our historical climate records to 500 years. We can then research the climate patterns over a much longer time period and investigate what may have caused these patterns. This helps us to better under possible future climate variability.

How sure are you of the accuracy of the paleoclimate records?

The paleoclimate records are used to help us understand patterns of past climate. For example, we can find out how long a drought has lasted in the past, and how often droughts occurred. We can look at the past climate from several hundred years ago to 1,000 years ago.

Researchers can then use paleoclimate records to see what it would might mean if our 130 years of recorded climate varied in the same way as patterns in the past.

Paleoclimate records are based on what we see between the landscape characteristics (such as tree rings, ice cores and river sediments) and climate, and come from a well-established and researched branch of the sciences. The records created from this research are not perfect, but the relationships used in the new method are the ones that we know are strong and relevant for NSW.

How can data found in ice cores in Antarctica tell us anything about climate in NSW?

Many ice cores have been taken and studied from an area of ice in Antarctica called the Law Dome Ice Sheet. It is around 200 km across and more than 1 km deep. Research has shown strong relationships between Australia’s past climates and different characteristics of this ice. Researchers measure the carbon dioxide and sea salt that is trapped and preserved within the ice.

Recent studies have shown that the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) has a strong influence on NSW’s climate. IPO describes swings in climate over a decade or more. During ‘negative phases’ of the IPO, the eastern Pacific Ocean tends to be cooler and wetter than average. During positive phases, the same regions tend to be warmer and dryer. The IPO influences the frequency of El Niño and La Niña events, and how severe they are.

Several scientific studies have shown that IPO also influences how much salt from sea spray is trapped in the ice. The ice cores provide a ‘lens’ in time where we can look back at how the sea salt concentrations varied over hundreds of years. This tells us how many time IPO cycles happened in Antarctica’s distant past. This matches IPO cycles in Australia, meaning we can then use the ice cores to tell us how climate patterns varied over NSW over the past 200 to 1,000 years.

Why have we used the driest climate change scenario?

The new climate data gives us with two datasets to improve our understanding of risk. The first is a generated 10,000-year record of streamflows derived from statistical analysis of our recorded climate and paleoclimate. This gives us a long-term understanding of streamflow behaviour under present-day climate conditions. The second dataset builds on this information, but introduces potential effects of human-induced climate change on our streamflows.

While there is a high level of agreement between many of the climate change models for temperature change, there is still a degree of uncertainty in relation to the modelling of future rainfall.

For the purpose of the draft strategies, one of the driest future scenarios has been chosen. Choosing the driest scenario gives us an idea of what the most extreme risks could look like and will help us stress-test the resilience of any identified options,

These driest, worst-case scenarios will not necessarily eventuate. There is a small probability that some of the extreme scenarios will occur. But they give us an opportunity to begin to plan for what we may need to put in place to protect water for critical human needs.

What can this new data be used for?

The new climate data has been developed to be used in river system models to compare the outcomes of policy, planning or infrastructure options. It can help us understand how effective a particular pipe, or dam or rule option will be in extreme scenarios relative to other options. That is, some options may be better able to sustain supplies through more intense, or more prolonged droughts, or may cope better with extreme flood events.

It is possible that the new climate data may be used for other purposes. For instance, the department is reviewing the useability of this new data within the existing guidelines for town water security assessments under the Safe and Secure Water Program.

What are the advantages and risks associated with using this data?

The new climate data gives us a much better understanding of the likelihood of extreme events such as drought occurring than has been available previously.

Modelling is a useful tool, but it is not a firm prediction of the future. In reality, if we experience extreme droughts, we will operate the system to prolong the availability of water for critical human needs.

This science still needs to be better understood and supported by the community. We need to explain how this science was developed, and how it can be used. We cannot make rushed decisions about how to use this information without a detailed and transparent conversation with the community. That takes time.

As a community, we still need to recognise that there is a very small risk of droughts and floods occurring that are more severe than the most severe events seen in the modelled information. For this reason, we need to move to managing the risks of these more extreme events, rather than managing one event, as has been done in the past. We need begin planning so we can be as prepared and resilient as possible for the next record-breaking drought.

Why are you not including this data in water sharing plans now?

Water sharing plans set out the rules for managing the allocation of water to different classes of users.

Within regulated rivers, the plans make decisions on allocations based on the worst drought on record, at the time the first plan was made. In a number of valleys, recent conditions have seen droughts significantly worse than the drought on which this planning is based.

A recent private members’ Bill has sought to amend these rules to recognise the more recent worst drought in the plans. The NSW Government does not support making this unilateral change without a full understanding of the level of impact on all classes of water users.

In 2014, the Government decided against becoming more conservative when making allocations and locked in the allocation risk as that taken at the commencement of the first water sharing plans rather than moving to a new drought of record. This was viewed as the appropriate balance between productive use of water and drought security. It concluded that alternative drought contingency measures including subsidies, and infrastructure to secure town water, were preferable to setting water aside in reserves.

This followed an assessment of the impact of changing the drought of record after the Millennium drought. The Lachlan Valley was used as a case study. The modelling indicated that using the Millennium drought as the drought of record would require a significant increase in storage reserves to continue to guarantee high priority licences and demands. This in turn would significantly reduce the water allocations for general security licences in all years.

Any change in the allocation framework needs to be carefully analysed, and both technical and policy aspects considered. This will need to be a detailed, nuanced and transparent discussion with potentially affected stakeholders and the broader community. Complex issues of risk appetite and risk sharing need to be explored.

This discussion will be conducted in the development of NSW’s Regional Water Strategies. The Regional Water Strategies will include more detailed analysis of drought and water security risks, and include modelling to examine the severity and duration of drought beyond the current period of record.

This new analysis will allow us to move away from making our planning decisions based on one “drought of record”, and towards a risk-based decision framework for the allocation of water.

The Regional Water Strategies will consider community views and hydrologic data to ensure a transparent, measured and pragmatic approach to setting future water allocation rules is adopted.

This will help to balance regional economic outcomes against future water supply security. Carrying out the allocation policy positions set through the Regional Water Strategies may require changes to water sharing plans. Community consultation will be completed on the strategies before any final decisions are made.

Water sharing plans can be amended at any time if it is in the public interest to do so, not just at their 10 year remake. This will happen as part of the implementation phase of approved regional water strategies, not just in response to any agreed changes to our approach to allocating water, but also as any new approved infrastructure comes on line.

This new data will allow us to review the management decisions about water allocations in a way that provides a fuller understanding of the level of risk faced by different water users under current arrangements, and whether changes to the rules are warranted.

The new climate data is cutting-edge science. It is being developed as we speak. And we are publishing the data as we receive it to be as transparent as possible and to begin the conversation about how we can use this data. We did not have access to this data before the last drought.

This government is committed to undertaking this review of allocation rules as part of the Water Strategies Program and considering how to use this data to develop a new method for calculating the allocations. However, this will take time, and significant community input about the level of risk for different categories of users. We want to understand the effects this could have on all parts of the community and the environment—we don’t want to rush and create new rules that could have unintended consequences.

How sure are you of the results of climate models: GCMs and regional ones?

The global and regional climate models produce projections of what may happen in the future under a number of different scenarios. They cannot predict exactly what will happen.

We look at the results from a range of independent GCM models to understand what each one means for how our current climate may change. We use the models that provide the best estimates (based on how well they simulate current climate) for different areas of NSW.

We apply how much we know about how climate varies across different parts of NSW to refine global climate data to use with regional climate models.

The global and regional models don’t give us one answer. Instead, they give us predictions that we can use to explore the range of changes likely to happen in the future. We are not ‘sure’ of any of the predictions, but they do give us the best guide we have for future climate risk.

How certain are the projections of the new method?

The new method for generating climate data provides us with a much better understanding of the range of climate patterns we are likely to see in the future. This means we are better able to understand our future climate risks and what that means for NSW’s water security.

The new method’s projections give us a clearer and more accurate understanding of the full range of possibilities of how the climate may vary and change in the future. It gives us more confidence in considering future climate risks to NSW’s water security compared to only considering 130 years of climate records. In particular, we now have a better understanding of the probability of future extremes of droughts and floods.

With the new method, we can now base our regional water strategies on more comprehensive knowledge about the likely climate risks to our water resources.

However, this new method does not ‘predict’ the future. We can use the projections in this new method to begin planning for extreme events, knowing that there is a probability they may not eventuate.

Could this new data affect the market value of my licence?

We have developed two separate 10 000 year datasets to better understand the climate risks associated with managing our water resource. The first of these provides us with an understanding of the behaviour of our river systems under current climatic conditions. The second dataset provides us with an understanding of the behaviour of our river systems under a future climate change scenario.

It is important to realise that our modelling of current climatic conditions indicates that on average, there will be little overall change (compared with our understanding from historical climate records alone) to times when water availability will be limited, although there are longer periods of drought in the 10 000 year dataset than we have seen in our historic 130 year climate record..

The data which shows a significant impact on the reliability of licences is based on modelling of a dry future scenario. We have chosen this scenario to understand the most extreme risks. This future climate scenario is not expected to eventuate for at least 40 years. It will not happen immediately.  This new data provides information on the possible impacts of climate change on water availability which we have not had available to us previously.  We can use this information to start a discussion on how we are going to prepare for a potentially drying future as part of the regional water strategy. This discussion will guide what changes we need to make to our policy, planning and infrastructure now and in the next 20 years.

Could this new data affect the market value of my account water?

The market value of account water is primarily determined by scarcity of the resource. In current circumstances, with reduced or zero allocations in place across much of the state, the value of water is at a premium. During wetter times, the market value of account water decreases. We will continue to have wet and dry periods in the future. It is not expected that this new data will impact on the market value of account water.

Submissions

How do I make a submission?

Your voice is important. We would like to hear your views on the draft strategy as a whole, including the process we used to develop the strategy and the evidence that supports it. We are also seeking your feedback on the options presented in the draft strategy and whether you have any more information that could help us to assess the benefits and disadvantages of any of the options.

You can provide your written feedback by completing an online submission form. The submission form includes general questions about the regional water strategy including objectives, vision, modelling, opportunities and challenges. It also includes questions regarding the draft options. The submission form will take approximately 15 minutes to complete. You can remain anonymous if you wish.

Alternatively, you can download a submission form available on our website and email the completed form to regionalwater.strategies@dpie.nsw.gov.au or post it to:

Regional Water Strategies
Department of Planning and Environment
Locked Bag 5022
Parramatta NSW 2124.

You can provide supporting documents with your submission to help us understand your views.

All submissions will be reviewed following the six-week public exhibition period.

I completed a survey after attending a webinar. Do I still need to complete the submission form?

We will consider all comments made during the public exhibition process.

The webinar survey enables you to provide feedback about the webinar itself. We encourage you to provide detailed comments and suggestions via the submission form, as this gives us a more comprehensive understanding of your views. The submission form seeks feedback specifically on the objectives, vision, modelling, opportunities and challenges for water resource management and on the draft options. You can also provide supporting documents to your submission form.

You can still complete a submission form if you attend a webinar or have a phone call with a team member.

How can I submit a submission by post?

Download a submission form available on our website and once completed send it to:

Regional Water Strategies
Department of Planning and Environment
Locked Bag 5022
Parramatta NSW 2124

I have spoken to someone on the phone, do I still need to complete the submission form?

We will consider all comments made during the public exhibition process. The phone survey will enable the provision of brief comments.

You can still complete a submission form if you have a phone call with a team member.

We encourage you to provide detailed comments and suggestions via the submission form as this gives us a more comprehensive understanding of your views. The submission form seeks feedback specifically on the objectives, vision, modelling, opportunities and challenges for water resource management and on the draft options. You can also provide supporting documents to your submission form.

When are submissions due?
Will my submission be made publicly available after the public exhibition period has ended?

To promote transparency and open government, we intend to make all submissions publicly available on our website, or in reports. Your name or your organisation’s name may appear in these reports with your feedback attributed.

If you would like your submission and/or feedback to be kept confidential, please let us know when making your submission. You will be asked for your confidentiality preference at question 1.

If you request your submission be kept confidential, it will not be published on our website or included in any relevant reports, however it will still be subject to the Government Information Public Access Act 2009.

Your submission will be stored securely consistent with the department's Records Management Policy and you have the right to request access to, and correction of, your personal information held by the department.

Read our privacy statement for more information.

Do I receive a copy of my submission?

After you have submitted your online form, a copy of the submission will be sent to your email address.

Next steps

What happens after the public exhibition period closes?

Feedback and submissions received during the public exhibition period will be reviewed and published in a consolidated report available on our website. If you would like your submission and/or feedback to be kept confidential, please let us know when making your submission. If you request your submission be kept confidential, it will not be published on our website or included in any relevant reports.

Outcomes resulting from the submissions will be integrated into the final draft strategy, where feasible. Additional consultation may then take place to review the final draft before seeking approval from the minister.

How and who will implement the strategies once they are finalised?

The Department of Planning and Environment will develop implementation plans for each regional water strategy, including monitoring and evaluation, once the strategies are finalised. The strategies will be implemented by NSW Government in partnership with WaterNSW, local water utilities and water management authorities.

I have questions about regional water strategies? Who can I contact?

Phone consultations with a regional water strategies staff member can be booked online. Visit the region-specific page and follow the links to book a one-on-one phone consultation.

Alternatively, please email your questions to regionalwater.strategies@dpie.nsw.gov.au.