The proposed flood plain harvesting regulations won’t effectively safeguard the environment or the requirements of people in the Murray Darling Basin downstream, according to the Perrottet government’s own advisors.
According to documents obtained by independent MLC Justin Field through the legislative process, the government was advised that suggested targets intended to protect river health were too low.
The environment and heritage divisions of the department’s officials expressed worry that the aims were in odds with the goals of the state’s water regulations, which demand that vital human and environmental demands be given priority.
Farmland With Irrigation
More than 100 NSW houses are taking too much water, according to the most recent audit.
Before the New South Wales environment minister, James Griffin, approves any modifications to water sharing plans, field experts, scientists, conservationists, and traditional owner groups are urging for stronger standards to be set.
Will the administration defend river communities and the environment or will it cave into Nationalist demands and the interests of vested corporate irrigators? stated Field.
Kevin Anderson, the water minister for NSW, reintroduced laws on July 1 to allow the issuance of flood plain harvesting licenses.
The Legislative Council has rejected the legislation three times, mostly out of concern for the need to safeguard downstream water consumers and the environment.
The harvesting of flood plains should be regulated, as is generally agreed upon, but detractors have advocated for regulations to ensure harvesting can only take place once water needs for places like Menindee Lakes and Ramsar wetland sites, such as the Macquarie Marshes, have been satisfied.
In response to a parliamentary inquiry, Anderson published a set of goals to prevent irrigators from taking advantage of “first flush” incidents.
They include a goal that would forbid water extraction when the Menindee Lakes system’s storage capacity is below 195 gigaliters.
Griffin must approve changes to the northern basin water sharing plans in order for flood plain harvesting to take place.
The environment and heritage group “considers the proposed in-catchment targets to be too low to maintain key environmental assets outside of extreme dry times,” according to a document prepared by Griffin’s department in June.
The aims, it was claimed, did not “support the water management principles of the WM [Water Management] Act” and did not take the environment’s long-term health into account.
The environment and heritage organization claimed that in order to solve this, it had established substitute targets that were based on environmental water requirements.
The briefing refers to an earlier email James Griffin‘s office received in May that said the targets were “low.”
On February 11, another communication between officials revealed that they were debating the possibility of downstream objectives that would forbid extraction during times of urgent human and environmental demands.
The officials noted that a legal challenge on these grounds was “likely,” but that such goals would “strengthen the case that the minister is taking all reasonable steps” to comply with the Water Management Act.
The planned standards, according to the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, are so low that they “won’t ever significantly restrict floodplain harvesting and won’t ensure that water for river health and community needs is prioritized above agriculture.”
They said that because the 195 gigalitre objective for Menindee Lakes, which was the location of massive fish mortality in 2018 and 2019, was so low, the volume stored there had only ever reached that level six times in the previous 43 years, all of which occurred during extreme drought.
A member of the panel, Prof. Richard Kingsford, stated that while the idea of setting targets is “to be welcomed,” they must be higher in order to satisfy the demands of communities and traditional owners downstream and to help Ramsar sites like the Macquarie Marshes or the Gwydir wetlands.
He said that they are essentially the targets you have when you don’t want targets.
“We need to ensure that these ecosystems and the downstream populations that depend on water receive enough, and we need to prevent situations like these significant fish kills.”
The government “should go back to the drawing board, consult widely, and come up with a more sustainable approach,” according to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.
The aim for his region, according to farmer and water campaigner Graeme McCrabb, was “insulting.” He raised awareness about the Menindee fish deaths.
The laws governing water distribution are still being discussed within the government.
Griffin stated that in order to preserve sustainable water levels and restore water to the ecosystem, the government was committed to regulating flood plain harvesting.
“I am carefully examining every detail of the proposed guidelines that will permit harvesting of flood plains.”
The government’s policy on harvesting floodplains, according to Anderson, is “the biggest environmental change the profession has ever seen.”
They would greatly increase downstream protections, he claimed and were the first limits of this kind to be placed anywhere in the basin.
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