The aim to increase irrigation water for the state's coastal farmers might be welcomed by some but it certainly raises many issues not least the need for environmental flows along the coast to sustain estuaries and their associated agricultural industries.
Described as an historic step to help coastal farmers produce more and better prepare for drought and bushfire the NSW Government's decision to increase on-farm harvestable rights has been slammed as putting coastal rivers, lakes and communities at risk.
Restricting the amount of water captured on-farm, which was instituted in 1993, was designed to improve water flow into river systems - now one of the major disputes involving the Murray Darling Basin and subject to years of angst between upstream irrigators and those downstream, who along with water scientists and environmentalists, decry a water management system that enriches some at the expense of others and many argue certainly harms the health of the Basin.
Coastal farmers and landholders can currently store 10 per cent of the rain that falls on their properties but that will increase to 30 per cent if new rules are adopted.
Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said these changes would improve water security for property owners and assist with reducing bushfire risk for coastal towns.
"The NSW Eastern Seaboard has some of Australia's richest soil, making it a producer's dream with the production of dairy, beef cattle, macadamias, potatoes and tomatoes contributing billions to the NSW GDP," Mrs Pavey said.
"For our farmers on the coast this is just common sense for our communities. The increase came after the NSW Government undertook a long overdue review which included hydrological modelling and broad community consultation.
"We saw too many situations during the 2019/20 bushfire season where despite being in high rainfall areas, firefighters were unable to source water from nearby locations. By raising the harvestable right to allow more water to be stored across the landscape, we will be better prepared as a State for future disasters."
Independent NSW MLC Justin Field has slammed NSW Water Minister for caving to the vested interests in the horticulture sector - particularly the blueberry industry on the North Coast - by allowing a tripling of water harvesting rights which will strip billions of litres of water from NSW's coastal rivers from the Bega to the Tweed and increase the risk of coastal communities running out of water in future droughts.
As a result of a review of coastal water harvesting rights, horticulture operators and graziers along the NSW coast will be able to increase the volume of water they capture in on farm dams from 10% of what falls on their land to a massive 30%.
The new regime also presents a particularly significant risk to sensitive coastal lakes which require regular flows of fresh water for fish breeding, ecosystem health and to maintain natural openings.
Mr Field said, "This is yet more evidence the National Party cannot be trusted on water.
"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 and communities as well as the environment.
"I'm all for expanding horticulture and other agricultural activities but growth should come from improved efficiency of water use, not allowing for increased take. "This is a gift to the loud voices in the industrial horticultural sector in the Water Minister's local area on the North Coast."
Mrs Pavey said the NSW Government will be undertaking detailed assessments of each individual coastal catchment over the next year to confirm the new limit is appropriate at a local level.
To balance this with the needs of the environment and downstream water users, water use will be restricted to domestic, stock and some agriculture uses, and farm dams will still only be allowed on first or second order streams.
These new rules will come into effect in early 2022 and the Natural Resources Access Regulator will enforce the strict rules.
The exemption will apply to pumps smaller than 100mm and bores that are smaller than 200mm, which are used solely to take water under a domestic and stock water access licence."
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