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Byron Shire
February 24, 2024

Tripling water harvesting may leave local communities dry

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Oversized dams which exceed maximum harvestable rights was the most common compliance problem for water harvesting around Coffs Harbour. Photo www.justinfield.org

The NSW government was looking to do catchment by catchment analysis to determine the risk to local water supply and rivers from the new rules on water harvesting rights. This would ensure that communities would not have water removed from their catchment at a rate that could not be supported. However, in true coalition style, they have decided to plow ahead with releasing the new rules prior to doing the analysis. 

As a result of a review of coastal water harvesting rights, graziers, dairy operators and fodder croppers along the NSW coast will be able to increase the volume of water they capture in farm dams from ten per cent of what falls on their land to a massive 30 per cent, tripling their water harvesting rights for free. 

Independent NSW MLC Justin Field has slammed NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson for caving to vested farming interests, allowing billions of litres of water to be stripped from NSW’s coastal rivers from the Bega to the Tweed, increasing the risk of coastal communities running out of water in future droughts. 

‘This will triple landholders rights to harvest water on their properties, stripping it before it flows into our coastal rivers, streams and lakes and taking water away from other users, local water storages as well as the environment,’ he said. 

‘I’m all for expanding agricultural activities but growth should come from improved efficiency of water use, not allowing for increased take. The new regime presents a significant risk to sensitive coastal lakes which require regular flows of fresh water for fish breeding, ecosystem health and to maintain natural openings. 

Waterways ran dry throughout the Northern Rivers as the 2019 drought impacted the region. Photo Aslan Shand.

Insecure water supply

‘The Government has recently released new Regional Water Strategies which recognise climate change coastal communities face less reliable and less secure water supplies into the future. I find it impossible to understand how the government can justify allowing more water to be taken from the rivers when we know there will be longer, more intense droughts in the future. 

‘Many coastal communities remember what it was like in the last drought when coastal rivers had almost no freshwater flows. [This] announcement means they are more likely to run out of water in the next drought. The next drought in NSW will be made worse by this decision by the National Party. 

Compliance failures

‘This is already a form of water take with significant compliance problems. The NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) highlighted significant non-compliance in the Coffs region last year noting “oversized dams which exceed maximum harvestable rights” “ was the most common offence and was found on 32 of 52 properties inspected”. 

‘Here we have a situation where substantial breaches of water rules were identified by the regulator so the NSW Government, under the Nationals Party, seem to be changing the rules rather than enforcing them. 

‘This will lead to bigger dams being built, more water being taken for irrigation and less water for communities, other water licence holders and our coastal rivers, lakes and wetlands.

‘The Government’s promise to do detailed assessments of each catchment is too little too late and the community should have no confidence in it.’

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