Concern over the potential impacts that the coal seam gas mining industry could have on the Great Artesian Basin was one of the major issues raised by the Moree community during a public consultation on the state government's new water sharing plan.
Representatives from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment were in Moree on Monday, March 2 to discuss the key changes to the draft 2020 Great Artesian Basin Water Sharing Plan, which replaces the 2008 plan, and listen to the community's feedback.
With the current plan due to expire in July this year, the new plan has been simplified to make it easier to understand, according to lead planner for the Great Artesian Basin Water Sharing Plan, Kristylee Marr.
"The whole purpose is to simplify the rules, so it's easier for people to understand," she said.
Updated estimate requirements for basic landholder rights, an updated extraction limit and new distance rules for new and amended water supply works (ie bores) are among the key changes to the 2020 plan.
However, Ms Marr said there's not too much substantial change for existing water users.
"In some instances, the basic landholder right estimates are an increase from 2008, but there's no real change," she said.
"The distance rule only applies to new bores."
One of the biggest concerns about the plan for the Moree community is that 30 per cent of the water savings from the Surat (covering the Moree Plains Shire), Warrego and Central Groundwater Sources are made available for extraction, which Ms Marr emphasised was not a change from the 2008 plan.
"People are concerned what those future water savings could be used for," she said.
"The plan details how water is shared, but doesn't say what it can and can't be used for.
"People are concerned it will go to the highest bidder, which could be industries such as coal seam gas.
"They believe the people who have been involved in creating those water savings, such as farmers, should be prioritised.
"This detail has been in place for 10 years and we haven't had that issue, but this is the type of feedback we're looking for, and we'll consider it when finalising the plan."
Moree mayor Katrina Humphries was one of about 30 community members to attend the consultation.
She said that farmers should be given the first opportunity to bid for that 30 per cent of water, considering they're the ones who've sacrificed to make those savings.
"We've gone through an excruciating amount of pain over all of this," she said during the meeting.
"There's a lot of angst out there ... but it's been done in goodwill. So the first people to get a shot should be the farmers who've contributed to these savings. We've made savings and should be getting the first shot at it."
Ms Marr said the water sharing plan doesn't have the capacity to dictate who does use the water, however there is currently a policy being developed around the capping and piping of water in the Great Artesian Basin which could address the issue.
Another concern of the locals is that their feedback won't be heard and the consultation is just "ticking a box", however Ms Marr said it "well and truly is a consultative process".
"We're here to listen to the community's concerns," she said.
"Any submissions received will be considered when finalising the plan."
The draft 2020 water sharing plan is currently on public exhibition.
Moree groundwater users are invited to submit their feedback at www.industry.nsw.gov.au/nsw-gab-groundwater-sources, where the draft plan and more information can be found.