Flood plain harvesting in northern NSW is under fire after a Parliamentary inquiry last week.
Evidence presented at the Thursday hearing suggested irrigators in the north are unmetered, unlicensed and are holding on farm storages in excess of 4000 gigalitres — well above the 210GL of flood plain harvesting allowed under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
SRI chair Chris Brooks and vice chair Darcy Hare also reportedly uncovered huge discrepancies in volumes of water removed from the northern system after a rainfall event in February, and the sudden implementation of an exemption by Minister for Water Melinda Pavey.
It allowed irrigators from Gwydir, Upper and Lower Namoi and NSW Border Rivers to take around 20,000 megalitres of ‘passive take’ water after flood plain harvesting access was allowed.
According to the NSW Government, passive take is any water remaining in supply channels and surge areas after overland flow has ceased.
A short time later the Department of Primary Industry and Environment (DPIE) increased the passive take figure to 30,000ML, but evidence given under oath by SRI has the figure sitting around a massive 900,000ML.
SRI deputy chair Darcy Hare, in putting the figure in to context, said this amount would have historically equated to a long term average of 720,000ML at the South Australian border and resulted in a 21.5 per cent general security allocation for NSW irrigators.
He said that estimate was based on Murray-Darling Basin Commission and Murray-Darling Basin Authority data.
SRI told the hearing it also received confirmation from the DPIE there has not been one single flood plain harvesting license issued in NSW.
In its submission to the inquiry into impact and implementation of water management (general) amendment (exemptions for floodplain harvesting) regulation 2020, SRI maintain taking water, using water or constructing and using water management works without the applicable approval are criminal offences.
‘‘Effectively these irrigators have no license, are unmetered and holding vast amounts of water in storages,’’ Mr Hare said.
‘‘To add insult, in some cases it is in storages built without the required work orders as per requirements of the basin plan.
‘‘And yet here in the southern basin we are metered and compliant.
‘‘There can't be two sets of rules, one for the north and one for the south.’’
Mr Hare said flood plain harvesting is seriously impacting water allocation in the south and contributing significantly to widespread economic and environmental damage.
‘‘Billions of dollars in productivity has been lost in the south, productivity which could have been shared across thousands of irrigators and their communities, and yet the state government continue to turn a blind eye; we demand an equal playing field,’’ he said.
‘‘Interestingly the Liberal National Party seemed more interested in a Guardian newspaper article published 12 months ago rather than seeking clarification on key points in our SRI submission.’’