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Barwon MP Roy Butler presents Terms of Reference for independent inquiry into water management

6 August, 2019
Barwon MP Roy Butler presents Terms of Reference for independent inquiry into water management   Image

Member for Barwon, Roy Butler is calling on the NSW Government to commit to an inquiry into aspects of New South Wales water management and their impacts on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Butler’s call for an independent inquiry comes after consultation with communities, irrigators, graziers, towns, water researchers and ecologists, all of whom raised serious concerns about government decision making in relation to water management.

“I’m calling for an inquiry to restore public confidence, and identify how certain decisions contributed to the current conditions in western NSW,” said Mr Butler.

“I have discussed the inquiry with Minister Pavey and provided her with the draft Terms of Reference. In our conversation, I emphasised that this inquiry is needed to restore the public’s confidence in the NSW water planning and management processes.

“The draft Terms of Reference cover a number of ongoing concerns including the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan, the management of Menindee Lakes, floodplain harvesting, low flows and connectivity, and the impact of rock weirs in the Lower Darling.

“I want to emphasise the importance of making sure any inquiry into water management in NSW is independent of government and Parliament, and has sufficient authority and resourcing to comprehensively investigate the matters arising.

“This is not about the drought; this is not about the actions of other states. This is about previous NSW Government decision making and those who are involved in these processes.

“The inquiry will be focused on looking at past decisions and the impact these decisions have had on water management and industry in western NSW.
“This is about clearing public concerns around the integrity of the irrigation industry and water management practices. The intention of this inquiry is to restore public confidence.

‘It is important that this inquiry take place free of influence so we do not find ourselves in this situation again.

“I will work with all Members of Parliament who are interested in improving water management in NSW to ensure a just, comprehensive inquiry occurs.”

Draft Terms of Reference

Inquiry into aspects of New South Wales water management that impact on the Basin Plan 2012

(1) To fully investigate the making of the Water Sharing Plan for the Barwon-
Darling Unregulated and Alluvial Water Sources 2012

  • Comparing all changes between the previous instrument for water sharing in the Barwon
    Darling with the Water Sharing Plan for the Barwon-Darling Unregulated and Alluvial Water
    Sources 2012 (Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan) as made.
  • Identifying if there are any direct beneficiaries to the changes identified (if any) between the previous water sharing instrument (Water Act 1912 (NSW)) and the current Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan.
  • Identifying the financial benefit gained by individuals and corporations through any changes
    made.
  • Identifying the processes and the individuals involved in delivering any identified changes.
  • Quantifying the impact on the identified environmental targets and objectives of the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan.
  • Identifying any inconsistencies with New South Wales obligations under the Basin Plan or
    any impacts on identified environmental targets and objectives.
  • Investigating communications between New South Wales officials, the New South Wales
    Government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) in the timing of the making of
    the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan.
  • Clearly identifying and articulating the changes to the Barwon Darling Cap on extractions
    water volume number that is contained in the Water Sharing Plan when compared to the
    previous Cap on extractions agreement and model.
  • Identifying whether the Cap on water extractions volume identified in the gazetted
    Integrated Quantity-Quality Model (IQQM) model run contained within the Barwon Darling
    Water Sharing Plan is an accredited Cap model.
  • Identifying and investigating all negotiations over Cap model accreditation prior to the
    making of the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan and subsequently to the making of that
    plan. These being between Industry, the MDBA and other Government Agencies.
  • Identifying and investigating the role of the MDBA in agreeing or otherwise to the
    accreditation of the Cap model contained in the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan.

(2) Investigating the two releases of water from the Menindee Lakes during 2016 and 2017

  • To investigate the formulas and agreements relating to water releases from the Menindee
    Lakes.
  • To investigate the decision making during both water releases.
  • To review the 2016 and 2017 release decisions in the light of identified protocols and
    antecedent conditions.
  • To provide advice on whether changes in protocols are required to increase downstream
    resilience and the environmental health of the Menindee Lakes.
  • To provide advice on codification of current protocols and agreements.

(3) Investigating the translation of Water Act 1912 (NSW) rights to harvest overland flows into the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW) required volumetric allocations

  • Thorough investigation of why a requirement under the Water Management Act 2000
    (NSW) to create volumetric licenses for overland flow harvesting that became lawful in
    November 2000 is still not complete.
  • To investigate and identify whether the current negotiations and actual New South Wales
    Government policy will lead to an accurate and fair translation of prior rights.
  • Reviewing and making findings on the adequacy of proposed compliance regimes including
    the capacity for procedural fairness and accuracy of monitoring.
  • A review of the management of late developers under the year of plan or Cap policy total
    volumetric harvest number by Water Sharing Plan provisions.
  • Review of environmental impacts.

(4) Re-establishment of rock weirs in the lower Darling River

  • To investigate the location of natural (rock) weirs removed to aid river passage.
  • To investigate the cost of replacing these natural structures.
  • To investigate the benefits - social, environmental and economic - of natural weir
    re-establishment.

(5) Investigate providing low flow water connectivity through Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan A class licence reallocation/purchase, in conjunction with use of off river storages

  • To take note of the findings and recommendations of the inquiry into the makings of the
    Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan regarding the status of A class licences.
  • To investigate the feasibility of using a pool of A class licences as a means of providing low
    flow connectivity for town, stock and domestic supply.
  • To investigate the location, structural integrity and suitability of redundant water storages as storage facilities for the new pool of A class licenses held for low flow connectivity.
  • To investigate, propose and cost potential schemes to allow privately owned water storages
    to be used for the storage and release of publicly held water.
  • To investigate and propose a management process including governance, membership,
    funding and terms of reference for a management committee that would oversee water
    storage, release and structure maintenance.

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