Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defenders Office welcome the opportunity to comment on the proposed rules for the floodplain harvesting (FPH) access licences in the Border Rivers Valley. We recognise the progress made on these much needed reforms to ensure all forms of take are licenced, metered and brought into a compliance framework based on diversion limits. We also appreciate that the proposed reform is aimed at reigning in the growth of FPH diversions that have occurred since implementation of the 1993/94 valley-wide Cap on diversions.
Conferring permanent property rights to irrigators is a windfall transfer of public wealth that should be considered only once public good outcomes can be guaranteed, including for Aboriginal Nations who are disproportionately disadvantaged under the current policy settings. Specifically, this requires guarantees that the licences issued will not impact expected outcomes under the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA 2000) the Water Act 2007 and Basin Plan for affected, downstream communities and the environment. This is particularly timely considering last week, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) reported on systemic failures to uphold elements of the WMA 2000 notably the Act’s objects and Sections 5 and 9, which relate to protecting ecosystems and priority of use. Furthermore, the complexity of management of FPH events, combined with limited public information about the location and legal status of floodplain structures, lack of historically metered diversions, lack of independent expert review of the actual model nor accreditation of this model, and different FPH take estimates in various reports, means there is much uncertainty and significant risks to water management outcomes. Effective and enforceable safeguards are needed to ensure outcomes expected under these reforms will be achieved.
We therefore recommend the following safeguards are in place for managing FPH access:
- Active management rules are embedded in access licence conditions to ensure that water for the Border Rivers and downstream will be protected for environmental purposes and human needs.
- Access licence conditions must require all floodplain works to act as ‘transparent structures’ during restricted periods so they do not to impede or harvest flows which would have otherwise contributed to valley-wide or downstream outcomes. This should be audited for compliance.
Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defenders Office