Moree irrigators and landholders find out more about NSW government's draft floodplain harvesting strategy

Moree landholders and Gwydir Valley irrigators called for the NSW government to consider the practicalities of implementing its draft floodplain harvesting strategy, without adding unnecessary red tape, at a consultation held in Moree on Monday.

Floodplain harvesting extraction is currently unlicensed and unmonitored in NSW, however with the release of floodplain harvesting water access licences, the state government requires an effective monitoring and auditing system that will drive voluntary and positive action and deter unlawful activity.

A draft Floodplain Harvesting Monitoring and Auditing Strategy has been developed and represents the first part of what will be a staged approach to wider floodplain regulatory initiatives over the longer term.

The NSW government is seeking community feedback on the strategy, which is currently on public exhibition until February 2019.

As part of the process, the NSW Department of Industry held a community consultation in Moree on Monday, December 3 to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to find out more about the strategy and give feedback on it.

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“Part of producing floodplain harvesting licences is putting compliance framework around reporting,” NSW Department of Industry director of water programs and performance Daniel Blacker said.

“We’re asking landholders to provide information on how they use water in a floodplain harvest event so we can monitor compliance.

“Part of the debate today was around the frequency of reporting and when reporting is required.

“The challenge is ensuring we have accurate starting information before an event occurs and how often information is taken.

“We recognise that it’s important we build trust and transparency in the system. We want to ensure we don’t create inefficiences or red tape and come up with a framework that’s balanced in what we ask people to do.”

Members of the Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association (GVIA) attended Monday’s consultation to hear how the government had progressed their strategy to further monitor floodplain harvesting licences. This is the third monitoring strategy version since development in 2014.

GVIA executive officer Zara Lowien said the association supports the implementation of floodplain licencing and its monitoring, provided that the policy fulfills the intent to provide a volumetric account for current legitimate access, resulting in no more or no less access than they currently have.

“The benefits to industry and our community in managing future growth should outway the costs and any monitoring program should be effective and fit for purpose,” she said.

However, GVIA member and NSW Irrigators Council chair Jim Cush said the information presented at the consultation questioned the government’s commitment to the principles Ms Lowien outlined.

“It suggests a lack of understanding of the complexity of managing a farm during a floodplain event, which occur irregularly when the valley is in flood and there is a lot of water around,” Mr Cush said.

“Asking for a daily record of dam storage level in this situation can be dangerous, and for some, impossible, to get. Telling people which storages they can use, is going beyond the intent of the policy.

“We are asking for consideration of the practicalities of implementing the strategy, and a focus on the overall objective which is to limit floodplain harvesting without adding unnecessary red tape that doesn’t benefit anyone; the regulator or the irrigator.

“We need to remember a major part of the process is licencing structures and limiting changes to these, which means an irrigator won’t be able to take more water than historically.”

The GVIA will be providing a submission into the process and recommends members review the policy and provide input. 

Mr Blacker said bringing regulatory framework to floodplain harvesting is part of the government’s commitment to the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

“It allows a greater level of transparency in terms of the overall system and water take,” he said.

The draft strategy opened for public exhibition on Thursday, November 29 and can be viewed on the Department’s website at www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/healthy-floodplains-project/monitoring-and-auditing-strategy

Submissions are open until Friday, February 15, 2019. Submissions can be made online at https://www.nsw.gov.au/improving-nsw/have-your-say/floodplain-harvesting-monitoring/