Inquiry into embargoes
Monday, 2nd March, 2020
By Craig Brealey
The lifting of the embargoes on floodplain harvesting and pumping in the NSW Northern Basin last month is to be examined by a Parliamentary Inquiry.
Last week, the Labor Opposition won support in parliament for an examination of the controversial decision that let irrigators start filling their dams while the floodwaters were nowhere near the Darling River.
The embargoes were meant to ensure that the water made it to the Darling that had not had a flow for more than two years.
They were imposed on February 7 by Water Minister Melinda Pavey but lifted three days later for large cotton farms in the Gwydir and Namoi valleys.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment invited the irrigators to complain that the floods might damage their dams and channels.
The invitation by email was sent a day after the embargo was lifted, which suggests the DPIE was seeking retrospective evidence to explain its action.
The embargo was reimposed on February 14 but later lifted again. That came after the National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson held meetings with Water Minister Melinda Pavey and Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall.
Last week the embargo on pumping directly from the rivers that supply the Darling was also lifted.
Shadow Water Minister Clayton Barr said the February 7 decision appeared to breach the Water Act 2000 at the expense of towns, the environment and “thousands of other irrigators across the State.”
“On the surface, this appears to be a wide ranging exemption to allow people without a water licence to actually take water and/or harvest run off water as it moves across fields and paddocks,” Mr Barr said.
“It is mind boggling that this Water Minister and her three predecessors have failed to get on top of this floodplain harvesting issue to the point where the current Minister now appears to be adopting a blank cheque approach to water harvesting, regardless of whether you are licenced or not and regardless of whether your works are approved or not.
“The law-abiding 99.9 per cent of irrigators across the State must be in despair at this regulation, not to mention the many communities that are approaching day zero for water supply and experiencing significant social and health problems as a result of being deprived of water supply over many years.”
Last week the NSW Natural Resource Regulator said it was investigating allegations that an irrigator on the Namoi River took water during the embargo.
The NRAR was also asked by Labor to confirm whether it would investigate the Water Minister’s decision to lift it.
“Western and Southern NSW read these reports, remember the water theft scandal, and wonder if the culture of collusion between the government and an elite group of cotton farmers ever really ended,” Labor’s Duty MLC for Barwon, Daniel Mookhey, told parliament.