Independent NSW MLC Justin Field has slammed NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey for caving to the vested interests in the horticulture sector - particularly the blueberry industry on the North Coast - announcing 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.
Independent NSW MLC Justin 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.
“Many coastal communities remember what it was like in the last drought when coastal rivers had almost no freshwater flows. Today’s announcement means they are more likely to run out of water in the next drought. The next drought in NSW will be made worse by this decision by the National Party.
“This expanded water harvesting right will be in addition to existing water licences - meaning it is not included in any currently regulated extraction limits.
“This is a gift to the loud voices in the industrial horticultural sector in the Water Minister’s local area on the North Coast and in particular the blueberry Industry who have been found by the water regulator to be flouting existing rules around harvesting rights.
The NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) highlighted significant non-compliance in the Coffs region in its January to March 2021 Quarterly Report noting “oversized dams which exceed maximum harvestable rights” was the most common offence and was found on 32 of 52 horticultural properties inspected.
“Here we have a situation where substantial breaches of water rules were identified by the regulator so the NSW Government under the Nationals Party are changing the rules rather than enforcing them.
“This will lead to bigger dams being built, more water being taken for irrigation and less water for communities, other water licence holders and the environment.
“The Government’s promise to do detailed assessments of each catchment after the new rules come into place in 2022 is too little too late and the community should have no confidence in it.
“With climate change disrupting normal water inflows across NSW catchments, now is not the time to be increasing unlicensed water take in NSW and putting communities at risk of running out of water in future droughts.