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Move to disallow

Wednesday, 5th May, 2021

By By Emily McInerney

Independent NSW MP Justin Field has moved to disallow the latest regulations on floodplain harvesting.
Last week, Mr Field slammed the introduction of new floodplain harvesting laws and indicated that he would move to disallow them when NSW Parliament returned this week.
New regulations were introduced by the NSW Government to allow floodplain harvesting licences to be issued across Northern NSW following public consultation late last year. The regulations establish the rules for the granting of licences to harvest floodwaters, requirements for measuring and also create new exemptions to allow some rainfall runoff to be taken without a licence.
“I said publicly that I would move to disallow them,” Mr Field told the Barrier Truth.
“Tuesday I gave notice, then we will debate and it will go to a vote.”
Mr Field said last year, a coalition in the Upper House voted against similar rulings and he hopes the same will happen again.
“There is uncertainty around the modelling which may see the needs of downstream communities pushed aside.
“Water could be taken from them and the environment.”
Mr Field said the State Government and Water Minister Melinda Pavey have gone ahead without listening to public concerns.
“Melinda Pavey has failed to listen to the concerns presented to her in the disallowance debate and the public consultation process. The issues that have been consistently raised about this type of taking, the uncertainty over the volumes of water and modelling, the need for first flush water to make it downstream communities - none of this has been resolved by these new regulations.
“We want to see regulations with floodplain harvesting licensing but we need to know how much water is being used. There needs to be rules in place to protect the community and environment.
“As it stands, there are rules that allow licensees to use 500 per cent of their allocation in any one year. It will mean that, once again, the greedy corporate irrigators will get to fill their dams before any water reaches downstream communities and the environment. It’s not good enough.”
The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists have also raised major concerns about new reforms. While the practice of building dams and levees on private property to capture floodwaters is widespread in the northern basin, this is the first time floodwater harvesting will be licenced under the Water Management Act.
Wentworth Group member Professor Richard Kingsford, a river ecologist and conservation biologist, said billions of dollar’s worth of new water licences could be created without adequate protections for communities and the environment.
“Our rivers and downstream communities are so dependent on the floods that get onto the floodplains,” Professor Kingsford said.
“They are large enough to reach the floodplain eucalypt forests and trigger the breeding of native fish and then connect the river downstream, supplying different human communities.
“We have to get this right for the future of our rivers. These reforms officially sanction an entirely new licence class for water extraction, without safeguards to protect the health of our already stressed Murray-Darling Basin rivers.”
“New water licences for floodplain irrigation should only be created when the rivers can get enough water and this will clearly not happen under the proposed rules.”
The Nature Conservation Council has followed suit and urged all members of parliament to disallow the new regulations.
“Many of our rivers and wetlands are already in a perilous state and this new regulation that will deprive them of a huge volume of precious water will have drastic consequences,” Chris Gambian, Chief Executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW said.
“The environment movement urges all parliamentarians to vote to disallow this dreadful regulation and protect our rivers, wetlands and downstream communities.
“Floodplain harvesting diverts a huge volume of water away from our rivers into private dams, and handing our new licences without proper safeguards, sustainable limits and guaranteed downstream targets will be repeating the mistake of over-allocation of water that has already damaged the Murray-Darling Basin.  
“Many of our wetlands, floodplain environments, and lakes, and all the animals and plants they support, rely on regular flood events.  
“To allow irrigators to take up to 500 per cent of a licence allocation in a single year is a recipe for disaster and will see important floodwaters stolen from the environment and downstream communities.”  
In the announcement last week it was revealed that Basin states will publish a report examining key projects including the Menindee Lakes and Yanco Creek Offtake Regulator Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects - two of the major projects within the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
It was also announced last week that all ministers welcomed NSW’s proposal to accelerate five projects that will deliver up to 45GL by 2024, with the Commonwealth agreeing to fast-track funding in support of these projects.
Minister for Water Melinda Pavey said NSW has already done much of the heavy lifting, delivering on environmental outcomes for the Murray Darling Basin and has completed or almost completed 12 of the 21 SDLAM projects.
“NSW has today reached an agreement to rescope Yanco and Menindee projects within two months – it’s an historic day for both the environment and millions of people who rely on the basin to survive as we have been unable to move on these projects for almost a decade,” Mrs Pavey said.
“Menindee Lakes is the most significant native fish breeding ground in NSW and we have been raising these issues along with water management in the Lakes for almost two years, and this marks a great achievement by all Basin Ministers recognising that our communities need to drive these projects.
“Through the efforts of NSW to accelerate its projects, an estimated 75 per cent of the 605GL is on track to be delivered by June 2024.”

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