NSW Upper House report outlines floodplain harvesting must be licenced
As flood waters continue to move along our river systems now reaching western communities such as Mungindi, Collarenebri and Walgett and spill operations for major storages continuing, including the recent addition of Menindee Lakes. This flooding is occurring as the NSW Upper House report into Floodplain Harvesting declared the historical practice is legal and should be measured and licenced.
Zara Lowien, Executive Officer of Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association who represents water users in the Gwydir Valley said “these conditions we are now experiencing are a far cry from those a few years ago, when environmental water and high security deliveries were the only sources of water keeping parts of our rivers flowing, while others just didn’t flow at all” she said.
Photo: Gwydir River near Yarraman during March 2019, in drought. By Craig Estens.
Photo: Gwydir River near Yarraman (bridge in background) during Major Flooding in November 2021, flood peaked at 7.06m. By Lou Gall.
“It’s an amazing turnaround and should dispel many of the myths propagated during the drought like our rivers would never flow again or our dams and Menindee Lakes would never fill, and that floodplain harvesting is killing the rivers” she said.
“In the next few weeks floodwaters from the north-west should finally reach Menindee Lakes with a conservative estimate of 1,000,000 megalitres already on its way. When that happens, everyone can see for themselves that these stories are untrue.”
“These simplistic narratives are unsupported by what’s happening right now and unsupported by the most up-to-date science by the NSW
Government” said Mrs Lowien.
Photo: Aerial of Gwydir River near Yarrraman November 2021. By Sascha Estens, Rabbithop Films.
“But when people look at this amazing turnaround, we also hope they can see the value and logic in the purpose of irrigation, which is about accessing some water at these times when it is abundantly available and storing it for later use” she said.
“The community rightly expect, is that whenever industry has access to water, it is only to our share, that the limits are policed and that it is very transparent, even in floods when there is water everywhere” she said.
“We agree and that is why we’ve supported the licencing of Floodplain Harvesting - a long-standing, historical form of take that happens when rivers and our floodplains are spilling, so that all forms of take are consistently managed in our valley” she said.
“In the Gwydir Valley, if floodplain harvesting was licensed as proposed earlier this year than farmers would have had access to less water during this current flooding and everyone would know how much water was being accessed across all licenses, whether it was within sustainable limits and how much water was in private dams from all these different sources of water“she said.
“Our position was supported by the Upper House Committee report which highlighted the need for measurement of storages and our rivers to properly account for water use and licencing to ensure all limits in state and Federal legislation could be achieved and monitored”.
“These are all key elements of the reform which the majority of stakeholders agree, it is what the community expects and should be implemented state-wide” she said.
Mrs Lowien said, “the committee report signals that there is broader support on the key principle of this reform, provided its implemented in line with state and Federal legislation, which industry fully supports and had expected from the NSW Government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority”.
“The committee has leaned heavily on the evidence of Mr Brett Walker, SC about the legality of the form of take which was a key concern for the NSW Parliament. Mr Walker’s advice was that the practice was legal and this was supported by many other legal opinions, including the Crown Solicitor” she said.
The NSW Government has 6-months to respond to the Upper House report, Mrs Lowien said, “we hope they respond quicker and outline the final stages of the healthy floodplains work program - a joing NSW and Federal Government project of more than $57M, which should address outstanding questions about this critical reform for our communities and the environment” she said.
Facts on recent flows in the Gwydir Valley in November and up to 15 December 2021:
- 86,000 megalitres have flowed along our rivers and have entered the Barwon via the Mehi, Moomin.
- 116,000 megalitres have flowed along the Carole and Gil Gil through to the Barwon.
- An estimated 484,000 megalitres measured at Yarraman, have flowed towards the wetlands. This is following major flooding earlier in March 2021 and further moderate flooding in November 2021, these wetlands are connecting through to the Barwon.
- A further, 20,000 megalitres have flowed from unregulated floodplain into the Barwon from the Thalaba system.
- 118% allocation is available in Copeton Dam for General Security and environmental licences with 8,000 megaltires used. Copeton Dam is being managed to 99% capacity having spilled 144,000 megalitres in November 2021.
- Full supplementary allocations are available, with 49,000 megalitres accessed between water users and the environmental licences.
- Floodplain harvesting available, unrestricted due to no licencing regime.
 See the factsheet on licencing outcomes in the Gwydir Valley on our website