The NSW government says it has welcomed the guilty plea tendered on behalf of irrigator Anthony Barlow.
Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair (Nationals) says the plea ‘comes one year after allegations were raised into water theft in NSW.’
‘Mr Barlow pleaded guilty to pumping during an embargo and while metering equipment was not working.
Minister Blair said, ‘No one is above the law and anyone who thinks they can illegally take our most precious resource will be held to account.
‘Twelve months ago we began the necessary steps to reform water management in NSW and make sure everyone had access to a fair and equitable system.
‘We will continue to ensure that all water users, whether they’re small or large, at the top or bottom of the system – know that their right to this critical asset, is protected.’
New regulations from December
This year the NSW government established the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) as well as stronger metering regulations, which will commence this December.
Meanwhile NSW Greens water spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham says that legal over-extraction for cotton irrigation was leading to the demise of rivers and wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Mr Buckingham said, ‘It is good to see an actual prosecution take place for water theft, given that the NSW Ombudsman found that water compliance and enforcement was effectively stopped for many years under the NSW government.’
‘While this prosecution is welcome, it is the legal extraction too much water for cotton irrigation that is causing rivers like the Darling to die.
‘Up and down the Murray-Darling Basin, there are many irrigators undertaking excessive or illegal water extraction secure in the knowledge the NSW Nationals will protect their vested interests over the environment or communities who rely on a healthy river.
‘I join many landholders and communities along our rivers that have lost confidence in the ability of the Nationals to effectively administer the water portfolio for the good of all water users, not just their big irrigator mates and political donors.
‘It’s also completely unacceptable that Water Minister Niall Blair now has new powers meaning he can retrospectively legalise illegal works and water thefts. This disadvantages irrigators who are doing the right thing and leaves the faucet open for attempts at undue or corrupt influence on the Minister.
‘These illegal channels and dams divert a vast volume of flood water away from natural waterways and into irrigation storages, making a few greedy irrigators rich at the expense of our rivers.
‘Water theft has real world consequences for the environment and downstream communities. While landholders and communities continue to struggle with drought and the impacts of climate change, the Nationals hold back the urgent action needed for healthy flowing rivers,’ he said.