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NSW government has another go as critics gush over floodplain harvesting findings

Southern Murray-Darling Basin politicians are queuing up to seize upon a parliamentary report into the NSW government's shortcomings on floodplain harvesting, but on Friday afternoon the NSW Irrigators Council said the government would try again to regulate the practice.

The Irrigators Council described the government's new attempt to regulate floodplain harvesting as a 'Christmas present' for the Murray-Darling Basin system, with CEO Claire Miller saying:

“The Government has listened to expert advice, including SA Royal Commissioner Bret Walker, SC, who warned of the urgency of this reform in the hearings. “The regulation also follows an Upper House Committee inquiry, which failed to find any legitimate reason to delay this public interest reform any longer. “Affected irrigators are not out there celebrating – the reality of losing about a third of their historic take without compensation is biting. “But after nearly two decades of modelling, analysis, data collection and ground-truthing, and more than $56 million of federal and state funding, it is long past time to just get on with the reform so everyone has certainty.” “Every year floodplain harvesting remains unregulated, is another year that an average 100 billion litres of water comes off floodplains and rivers for irrigation instead. The delays have got to stop.”

The Friday regulation attempt follows this week's tabling of the Floodplain Harvesting Select Committee tabled a report into floodplain harvesting which included 25 recommendations based on 14 key findings.

A key recommendation was that floodplain harvesting is metered and measured before licences are issued, that licences should not be compensable and that no licences be granted on the basis of illegal works.

Floodplain harvesting involves building levee banks across watercourses to retain water when it flows during floods, for future farming use. In the Murray-Darling Basin, there have been long-running concerns the practice has been unregulated and deprived downstream communities of live-saving and economically valuable water.

MP for the southern NSW border seat of Murray, Helen Dalton, jumped on the report's findings:

“The NSW Government have failed to regulated floodplain harvesting for the past two decades.”
“They have allowed too much water to be taken upstream via floodplain harvesting, meaning less river flows down the Darling River.”
“It also means Murray and Murrumbidgee irrigators are left with lower allocations.”
“These recommendations provide a framework for a more balanced approach – allowing farmers to take water in a sustainable way while ensuring downstream water targets are met.”
“Now, we just need NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey to respect democratic processes and commit to implement all these recommendations before she issues floodplain harvesting licences.”

The NSW government was contacted for comment on the report but had not responded by FlowNews24's deadline. Previously, Minister Pavey has criticised Legislative Councillors for disallowing the government's attempts to regulate floodplain harvesting.

Mrs Dalton has also been a critic of the past regulations, with her Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party upper house colleagues combining with Labor and the Greens to vote down previous regulations.

With the NSW Parliament now in recess until next year, the enforceability of the regulations will remain moot until the Legislative Council can again consider them in early 2022.

Mrs Dalton implied crooked modelling had been sourced by the NSW government, which allowed too much water to be taken upstream with floodplain harvesting licenses:

“A key inquiry recommendation is that an independent panel be established to ensure the NSW Government complies with the Murray Darling Basin Cap, which limits water extraction to 1994 levels.”
“The NSW Government has ignored the Murray Darling Basin Plan when it comes to floodplain harvesting and needs to be pulled in line.”
“We need transparency and independent oversight. Now the ball is in Minister Pavey’s court to make this happen. Farmers and communities along the Lower Darling, Murray and Murrumbidgee need her to do the right thing.”

Victorian northern border independent MP for Mildura Ali Cupper is also determined to see the NSW Government adopt the recent recommendations made on revamping floodplain harvesting in the state:

“In the end it’s about fairness - irrigators in my electorate by-and-large are doing the right thing, now it’s time for New South Wales irrigators to follow suit.
“The overwhelming consensus within the report is that while floodplain harvesting is legal, the lack of enforcement and compliance in upper NSW is devastating for downstream river communities."
“Among the suggestions is the inclusion of a ‘no meter, no pump’ rule in New South Wales, and the decommissioning or removal of unlawful structures."

Greens MLC Cate Feahrmann chaired the select committee on floodplain harvesting and said fundamental disagreements between key stakeholders had ensued centred on harvesting policy, saying:

"There are too many inadequacies and uncertainties around floodplain harvesting at this point in time."
"Caution and improvement is required before a licensing framework is embedded."


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