The Government must act on improving water management transparency
Water Management in NSW is not transparent. We have seen in the last few weeks the issues that this lack of transparency creates for everyone, be it communities or people holding water access licences.
The recent embargoes across the Barwon electorate have created a huge amounts uncertainty and concern throughout the community. In part, this is because there are no clear trigger points for 324 embargoes to be put on or taken off. In January this year, I wrote to the NSW Water Minister asking that these trigger points be made clear, and publically available.
The Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party successfully intervened in the Water Management Act (Water Reform Action Plan WRAP) amendments in 2018. At that time, the Party pointed out that the embargo provisions lack clear guidance, transparency of decision making, and capacity to actually measure in real time. These concerns have proved to be highly accurate in the current time when the lack of process has raised more concerns not lessened them.
The NSW Government could be right now making changes to its water management processes to improve transparency. In my opinion, this should be a key priority. The anxiety and uncertainty, is causing great distress for people along the length of the river. The government needs to be doing much, much more in this area.
Under the current arrangements, how would we know if lifting the embargo was the right thing to do? Where would we read about the models and projections? We cannot, and it leads to problems.
Last week, an official flow target of 210GL-240GL into Lake Wetherell was published. I actually think this is a conservative estimate, private sector models that I have seen indicate the number will be higher. I accept lifting of embargoes on the condition that this target is not lowered. Agriculture dependant economies need some turnover, but towns having water is the number one priority.
The recent rain has been patchy, some areas had lots of rain, and others have had next to none. River flows are the only way that some town weirs will be replenished. Where it has not rained, they also have no soil moisture for agriculture or pasture and permanent plantings are struggling.
We all want to have connectivity in our rivers. We have seen the positivity bolstered in our towns as the water flowed into town; I want to see that in every community along the river and for that to remain, as the water level stays high. Last year, I amended the Water Supply Critical Needs Bill; my focus was on two areas:
- Critical supply in five towns that were running out of water.
- The reinstatement of the rock bars or natural weirs along the Darling River.
The rock weirs are a step towards a healthy river, and better water supplies to towns by keeping the river wet. Secondary benefits include providing habitat for native fish and the natural fence graziers rely on to keep stock on their property.
We need to ensure we have healthy rivers, and health economies. It is my opinion that these two aims do not need to be in competition.
I note that the NSW Water Minister has called for an investigation into how the first flows down the Darling River has been handled, ‘for the sake of transparency’. The Minister requested this investigation due to the questions raised about her Department’s decisions and the communication relating to the embargoes. A report is due in August.
While I welcome the review, I would say – instead of requesting reviews after the fact the Government needs to be transparent from the start.
The public places a degree of trust in government. In the water management space, this trust has been eroded. The only way we can return to a position of trust in our water managers, and ensure the balance between the social, economic and environmental outcomes is improved, is through a Federal Royal Commission.
I will continue to pursue the items the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party took to the election in the 10-point water strategy. Bit by bit, State and Federal Governments are implementing these strategies - let us just get on with it.