Deniliquin Pastoral Times
SRI fronts floodplain inquiry
An inquiry on floodplain harvesting — the 301st inquiry into NSW water management since 1989 — will enter its third and final day today.
The inquiry was established June this year in an attempt to clarify and review state and federal government’s current governance of the practice.
Floodplain harvesting allows irrigators located within a floodplain — land next to a river that is often prone to flooding — to capture excess water during rain events.
However, despite decades of legislating, some factions argue the practice is poorly managed.
It has been widely criticised by irrigators within the Southern Basin.
This is because under the Murray Darling Basin Plan (first drafted by Federal Labor in 2010), it is a requirement that South Australia be allocated 39 per cent of the basin’s capacity.
And when this mandate is not met, additional supply is sourced from general security water entitlements held not only by local irrigators, but private property and even entire housing estates.
Local Member for Murray Helen Dalton claims that this practice results in ‘‘critical human needs’’ not being met.
‘‘When I get calls from constituents that have to buy bottled water to bathe their baby I know the system is broken,’’ she said.
‘‘In the past we’ve had private companies and citizens trucking water into neighbourhoods during drought — effectively doing the government’s job.’’
Most critics of floodplain harvesting practices aren’t necessarily critical of the practice itself, but rather how it is regulated.
They claim that current caps — known as the Baseline Diversion Limit — on how much water is allowed to be harvested are being exceeded, and not being policed by the state government.
They also argue that while water is strictly regulated in the south, the north is not held to the same rules.
Currently the only way of determining how much water is being taken by harvesters is mathematic models and estimates conducted by the MDBA.
According to Mrs Dalton, this is despite ‘‘hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on water metering systems’’.
Mrs Dalton further claims that for the past 20 years successive governments have ‘‘kicked the can down the road,’’ instead of implementing said systems.
Prior to the current inquiry — at the request of The Greens who issued a call for papers — emails from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s (DPIE) principal water modeller Andrew Brown were made public.
In these emails, dated July 22, 2018, Mr Brown claims that: ‘‘The (Murray Darling Basin Authority) is desperately afraid of the media coverage when it becomes apparent that the number for (the Baseline Diversion Limit) has gone substantially up’’.
‘‘There will be immediate claims that New South Wales is fiddling the figures, closely followed by questions about why MDBA isn’t stopping this from happening,’’ the email continued.
Local Irrigation advocacy group Southern Riverina Irrigators was invited to front the inquiry panel on Wednesday.
Representing the group were chair Chris Brooks and legal associate Tim Horne, from Horne Legal.
‘‘Just because floodplain harvesting does not breach section 60A of the Water Management Act or any criminal provisions, does not mean landholders are authorised to use works to impound and retain floodplain harvesting water for irrigation,’’ Mr Brooks said.
‘‘This requires an active approval or exemption, and none have been issued in New South Wales.
‘‘Floodplain harvesting isn’t legal if done with works (dam or storage), and without a right or licence.
‘‘SRI has long argued you can’t have two different sets of rules in one state.
‘‘We are licensed and metered in the south and pay for our allocation whether we receive it or not. It is about time northern New South Wales operated under the same rules.’’