Statement regarding the northern basin

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Statement regarding the northern basin

Groups across the northern basin communities would like to correct several claims made during an interview with Michael Condon on the ABC’s ‘Country Hour’ on 2 September 2019.

The following false statements were made and not challenged during the interview implying that:

  • The northern basin is not metered
  • That northern irrigators take as much as 3,000 gigalitres of water as part of floodplain harvesting
  • The northern basin is not regulated; and
  • That the northern basin is where ALL the compliance issues are.

These statements are demonstrably false, and not supported by any evidence.

The fact that they were broadcast without challenge points to the lack of knowledge of water issues and the tendency to perpetuate opinion as fact as in other recent ABC programs.

They are symptomatic of the frustration and levels of desperation that some members of the irrigation community are experiencing during current drought conditions. 

They also seem to be an attempt to divide basin communities, by seeking benefit for a few individuals at the expense of another region in the same state, which is very disappointing.  Communities right around NSW are doing it tough because of the drought and should be united rather than divided by false premises. We need to work together for mutual benefit, not turn on each other.

We invite anyone who wants to learn more about the northern basin and any of these key issues to visit our communities and farming enterprises to learn what is really going on.

Following is a quick summary of the facts backed by evidence.


The northern basin irrigators already have extensive metering in place, some of which was funded by government programs back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and are compliant with current requirements under the Water Management Act 2000.

Right now, all NSW irrigators are transitioning to new regulations that require all meters to meet Australian Standard 4747, meet accuracy requirements, and be validly installed with government approved data logging and telemetry. Details are available at

Many of the existing northern basin meters will meet these new requirements. The remaining sites are working towards a roll-out date, just as others around NSW are working towards compliance.

To suggest that one region is better than another is misleading given that no water user in NSW has a fully compliant meter installation at the time of this statement, northern or southern basin.  This is because the NSW Government cannot determine approved telemetry or data logging requirements. See a video by Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association on this here   

Floodplain Harvesting

The statement “northern irrigators take as much as 3,000 gigalitres of water as part of floodplain harvesting” is speculation without any explanation.

Floodplain Harvesting is currently being converted from an ‘approved form of take’ under the 1912 Water Act to a licensed form of take, with a volumetric limit and accounting rules under the NSW Water Management Act 2000. All NSW entitlements, including high and general security have been converted under the same process, FPH is the last one on the list.

This process was commenced in 2008 by then Minister, Nathan Rees.

Floodplain harvesting only occurs with water breaks out of a river or stream and flows across a floodplain. The volume of water taken during a flood event is typically very small in comparison to the total volume of floodplain flows which can be many 100’s of gigalitres a day.

The last significant northern basin-wide floodplain harvesting event was in 2012, though there have been smaller, localised events in 2016.

In a Media Release in May 2019 the NSW Government indicated that "Floodplain harvesting can only occur during very wet periods. As a result of the current drought no significant floodplain harvesting in the NSW Northern Basin has occurred since 2016 ‒ more than 2 years ago".

The NSW Healthy Floodplains project is updating assumptions within valley-wide models to ensure they reflect historical and current conditions and represent take more accurately. With these improvements, the long-term average estimates for all forms of take including floodplain harvesting will be updated. To suggest a volume without this project being finalised is speculative and may prejudice the Independent Peer Review currently underway.

Floodplain Harvesting is a state-wide policy which is initially being implemented in 5 northern valleys.  Under the current policy, floodplain harvesting volumetric calculations will also include Rainfall Runoff, that is rainfall that falls on your own farm development and hence applies to water users all around the state.

The NSW Government is about to embark on a consultation for this program and attendance at one of those events is encouraged for all water users that have a storage dam and collect excess rainfall runoff from their farm.  See or our media release

Water Regulation

To say that “the northern basin is not regulated” highlights a lack of understanding of the northern basin.  There are regulated and unregulated catchments across NSW.  Each river is managed by rules of Water Sharing Plans, which are transitioning to Water Resource Plans.

The term ‘regulated catchment’ refers to a catchment that has a headwater storage (dam) in which water is stored and released to license-holders. ‘Unregulated’ means there is no headwater storage and licensed access is granted to stream flows under certain conditions and rules.

This statement implies that “unregulated” means unlawful, but this is not backed up by any evidence. NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator and any other government agency responsible for water regulation in New South Wales may have a different view.

Compliance Activity

This statement that compliance issues are only a problem in the northern basin is not supported by evidence from the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator.  A review of NRAR’s compliance activities indicates that there are a greater number of infringement notices and prosecutions completed in other areas of NSW. See:

The recent appointment of a MDB Inspector General is evidence that compliance issues are no more prevalent in one region than another and that a high level of scrutiny is required across all states in the MDB, and is a move our industry has strongly applauded.


Making Every Drop Count

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