Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association (GVIA) has welcomed the state government's commitment to moving forward with its management of overland flow with the release of draft accounting rules and floodplain licensing outcomes for the Border Rivers.
The Border Rivers is the first of the five valleys to be licensed from July 1, 2021 under the proposed new water sharing rules for floodplain harvesting licences.
GVIA vice chair Jim Cush, who also farms in the NSW Border Rivers and the Namoi, is relieved the Healthy Floodplains project - established to oversee the licencing - is nearing its end.
"It's been a long time coming, especially considering it started with the River Management Committee discussions that committed to licencing during the development of our first water sharing plan in the early 2000s," he said.
"The Department is finally getting its act together."
Mr Cush together with other eligible floodplain harvesters in the Border Rivers recently received individual model outcomes, together with valley-specific modelling.
The Gwydir Valley outcomes are due in November and the remaining valleys early in 2021 prior to licencing to commencing.
GVIA executive officer Zara Lowien said while the delays have been frustrating, the extra time has meant the program has benefited from improved technologies and is "more robust than ever".
"The Department's work has been independently peer reviewed, and consultation and engagement has expanded, so there's greater visibility now," she said.
"The depth of information provided for the Border Rivers, which will be replicated across the other valleys, means that there can be no more wild speculation of numbers or impacts, as it is out in the open for everyone to see.
"Whether its how much is accessed or when, and what that means, the reports have addressed those questions."
The NSW Border Rivers models have been updated with additional climate information plus a move to a new modelling platform and updated analysis of infrastructure works via reviewing satellite images and lidar.
This model rebuild has re-calculated all forms of take over the complete data record.
The analysis indicates that floodplain harvesting take, which includes overland flow from within a property and water flowing out of a river, is on average 44 gigalitres per year over the long term and that this needs to be reduced back to the legal limit of 39GL per year, representing the need to reduce future access by 13 per cent.
Mr Cush said Gwydir Valley irrigators had prepared for a reduction because the government took so long to act.
"At least now we know by how much and how it will be managed," he said.
"Reductions are because total use is above limits but also because of the firm decisions around eligible works, which needed to be approved or applied for prior to July 3, 2008.
"It means, irrigators like me will be further limited to how much water they can access during a flood and accountable via storage meters installed in all their storages.
"After nearly 20 years, it's time we move forward and it's better for industry and the community to finally make floodplain harvesting accountable just like all our other licences."
Mr Cush said the firm eligibility criteria means he's caught up in the cut-off as he has a dam that was approved and built after 2008.
"This dam wasn't used in the calculation of the floodplain licence volume, but it will be metered, and we can still use it to store our other licensed water, like supplementary or our general security," he said.
"On-farm storages are crucial in times like now when we have bulk delivery of all our season's water due in the next month.
"We need to store it on farm until we need it."
Mrs Lowien recognised that there is likely to be growth in use above limits in other valleys, which will be wound back to within legal limits under the program.
Reductions in extraction will likely apply to the Gwydir and this would have flow on to the local economy.
"Whenever water for production is reduced, there's going to be a corresponding impact to the community which relies on the industry," she said.
"Still, the industry is committed to licencing so we can move forward in how water is managed in NSW and lead by example rather than backwards.
"Licencing with monitoring and reporting, backed by strong compliance, is the only way we, the community and other water users, can have the confidence that everyone is getting their fair share.
"We are in response, more determined than ever to continue to innovate the industry and become more efficient, to make every drop count."
The draft floodplain harvesting rules are currently on public exhibition, with community feedback being sought until November 30.
The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment is holding public meetings in the Border Rivers area this week, where community members can learn more about the proposed water sharing rules for floodplain harvesting licenses and the draft Regional Water Strategy for the Border Rivers.
A public meeting will be held at the Inverell RSM Club from 1pm to 4pm on Tuesday, November 10, followed by a meeting at the Boggabilla Town and Country Club from 1pm to 4pm on Wednesday, November 11.
For more information and to register to attend a public meeting, go to www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/healthy-floodplains-project/water-sharing-plan-rules/border-rivers.