There will be consequences for water users who fail to meet the new metering obligations

Editorial  | 26 April 2021

We know water users across NSW want to comply with our state’s water laws and do the right thing. However, manual reporting requirements can often lead to inaccurate water records, leaving many water users uncertain of their compliance status.

In December 2018, the NSW Government introduced a new non-urban water metering framework to ensure a more simple, robust and fair water management regime across the state.

The new metering framework requires water take to be metered and that meters are accurate, tamper-proof and independently validated by a qualified professional.

After extensive consultation with the NSW water community, and a delay due to the drought, the NSW Government opted to roll the new regulation out in stages. Larger water users, with surface water pumps 500mm and above, were asked to comply by 1 December 2020.

These users generally have entitlements to take large volumes of water.

At the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) we don’t make the rules or set the deadlines, but we do enforce them.

Four months have passed since the 1 December 2020 deadline and the time has come for us to take action and enforce the law.

We have conducted a desktop analysis to gain an initial understanding of compliance levels and the results aren’t as positive as we would like.

Our initial assessment of compliance has indicated that water users who own one third of the pumps in this group are on the pathway to compliance, meaning water users are taking steps to ensure water taken is measured through an approved and tamper-proof meter.

In some cases, these meters have been independently validated by a qualified professional and a small number of these meters also have a local intelligence device (LID) installed which is transmitting data to the data acquisition service (DAS).

This means that water users who own two thirds of the pumps in this group have potentially not taken action to comply with the new metering regulation and are not recording water take to the standard required by law.

As the NSW state water regulator, we are focused on the water users who have not made reasonable efforts to comply.

We have heard from some that there are barriers which have interfered with their ability to comply. These barriers include limited certified professionals, which has now improved and genuine physical constraints to getting equipment on farm.

We will be contacting and visiting the properties of all the water users in the first group over the coming weeks to understand where they are on the path to compliance, and to determine what legitimate barriers exist.

We have asked all water users in this group to make reasonable efforts to comply and now we will ask them to show us those efforts.

Our approach to assessing compliance with this regulation is simple. Water users must have installed tamper-proof, accurate meters and should have had these validated by a certified professional.

Those who can’t provide evidence of these steps can expect consequences – including directions to comply and stop work orders to reduce or prevent the use of pumps that do not have validated meters.

Prosecutions are possible, so too are significant financial orders. Licence suspensions or revocation are also within our enforcement powers. There should be no surprises when sanctions are applied, and these will become progressively more severe.

The new metering framework is beneficial for everyone. It makes it easier to comply with our water laws and reduces the risk of the few who choose to break the law getting away with meter tampering or unlawful water take.

The rules only work if we all follow them, and no one is above the law.

About Grant Barnes: As NRAR's Chief Regulatory Officer, Grant is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the regulator which is charged with adding transparency and building community confidence in water compliance and enforcement in NSW.

About NRAR: NRAR was established in 2018 under the Natural Resources Access Regulator Act 2017 to be an independent, transparent and effective water regulator with total responsibility for the compliance and enforcement of water laws in NSW.

NRAR officers checking a metering pump

NRAR officers checking a metering pump