Temporary Water Restriction - Barwon-Darling Unregulated River and Intersecting Streams Unregulated Water Sources (Amended)

Reason for Decision

Temporary Water Restriction (Barwon-Darling Unregulated River and Intersecting Streams Unregulated Water Sources) Amendment Order 2019

Overview

A temporary water restriction on pumping in the Intersecting Streams Water Source and the Darling River from Culgoa junction to Menindee Lakes by unregulated river licence holders is in place to address critical water needs (town water supply, basic landholder rights, high security and critical in-stream needs) in the Darling River system.

River pumping is not permitted by these licence holders to allow for replenishment of town water supplies, supply for high priority users, filling of instream refuge pools for fish and other aquatic biota, and flow into the Lower Darling system.

The restriction was put in place on 4 November in response to a rainfall event in western NSW on 2 and 3 November. This restriction is due to expire on 31 December 2019.

To protect potential inflows during the holiday period, the temporary water restriction amendment order extends the current restriction to be in effect until 5 January 2020. This duration can be adjusted by amending or repealing the order as required.

The ability to respond quickly and place a temporary water restriction during the Christmas and New Year period is operationally constrained due to the number of public holidays and many regional media outlets being closed. This inhibits timely publication of the restriction in a manner that is likely to bring the notice to the attention of members of the public.

This temporary water restriction amendment order provides for active management and has been prepared such that should a substantial natural flow event occur, the Department can approve the take of water by access licence holders.

The temporary restriction does not apply to the take of water for testing metering equipment, and does not apply to the take of water from farm dams.

Background

Both the Barwon-Darling and Lower Darling valleys are in Stage 4 critical drought. Inflows into the Barwon-Darling River are at record low levels.

Many town water supplies are vulnerable and water for domestic and stock water purposes is limited. There have been no flows into the Lower Darling since February 2019. There is a high risk of significant and widespread fish death events occurring again in summer.

The overarching aim of the restriction is to ensure that critical needs (town water supply, basic landholder rights and environmental needs) are met if there are inflows following the extended dry period - both in the water, and if possible further downstream in the Barwon-Darling and the Lower Darling. Placing a temporary water restriction order on access to natural flows by unregulated licence holders is a way to achieve this aim.

Reasons for Decisions

Temporary water restriction – section 324

Section 324 of the Water Management Act 2000 (the Act) allows the Minister or delegate to order that temporary water restrictions within a water source are to have effect for a specified period, if these restrictions are determined to be in the public interest.

Based on the information outlined in the Background section, there is a public interest in making an order to restrict take in the in the water sources in Table 1 as follows:

  • “To cope with a water shortage” - remaining water supplies in the Barwon-Darling River and Lower Darling are at critically low levels (drought criticality stage 4 under the Extreme Events Policy) and must be protected for critical human needs. A full flow along the Barwon-Darling has not occurred since August 2018.
  • “Threat to public health and safety” - town water supply and domestic supplies are crucial for public health and safety and are under threat without intervention. These mitigation measures are needed to recover supplies and provide essential needs access in the Barwon and Darling rivers and will be in place until replenishment has occurred to ensure town water supply.
  • “Manage water for environmental purposes” - prior to recent local rain and the 2019 northern fish flow event, the Barwon-Darling River had not flowed since August 2018 and there are still sections of the river which have not flowed.

The protection effected by the s324 order targets replenishing refugia / pools and potentially breaking a prolonged cease-to-flow event, in many rivers and creeks, and improve drought refuge habitat, including water quality.

Vanessa O'Keefe

A/Executive Director Policy, Planning & Sciences

18 December 2019