Reason for decision
Reason for Decision
Rain across parts of the northern basin over February 2020 has resulted in inflows to the Barwon-Darling and across southern Queensland into the Intersecting Streams. River and overland flows protected by the temporary restrictions in the Northern NSW Murray Darling Basin have reached the Barwon-Darling from the Border Rivers, Gwydir, Namoi, Castlereagh and Macquarie Bogan Rivers. The overarching aim of the Northern Basin restrictions on river flows and floodplain harvesting, which expire on 28th February 2020, was to ensure that critical needs (town water supply, basic landholder rights, high security and environmental needs) were met following the extended dry period. As flows have passed from the floodplains and northern tributaries and sufficient water is held in storage to meet critical needs until next summer in these valleys, access is permitted in the Border Rivers, Gwydir, Namoi, Castlereagh and Macquarie Bogan Rivers.
The emphasis now is on protecting flows along the Barwon-Darling and into the Lower Darling and the Menindee Lakes. Continuing the temporary water restrictions on the Barwon-Darling Valley Floodplain and in the Barwon-Darling Unregulated River Water Source is a way to achieve this aim.
Protection of river and overland flows in the Barwon-Darling is in the public interest, due to the ongoing severe drought conditions in the Barwon-Darling and Lower Darling Rivers. It ensures critical needs (town water, domestic and stock, basic landholder rights, and critical drought refuge areas) are met along the Barwon-Darling river system and that flows will reach Menindee Lakes.
Floodplain drainage continues along the Barwon-Darling with additional gains of approximately 15 GL observed in the river at Mogil Mogil, Tara and Walgett over the last two days. Flows have started to reach Bourke and are expected at Wilcannia between 8-20 March.
Given the predicted substantial contribution of flows into the Barwon-Darling from the Culgoa River, the Department on 27 February 2020 permitted A, B and C class pumping upstream of the Culgoa junction.
This temporary restriction order therefore applies to the take of water by the holders of:
- unregulated river access licences (A, B and C Classes) in the Barwon-Darling Unregulated River Water Source (downstream of the Culgoa junction),
- and floodplain harvesting on the Barwon-Darling Valley Floodplain.
Progressive lifting of the restrictions through pumping approvals will be undertaken along the Barwon-Darling below Culgoa and the floodplain, once the required flows to meet the Menindee Lakes target pass or it is confirmed that sufficient flows have arrived into NSW from Queensland.
The Intersecting Streams Water Source is not included in this restriction because most of the entitlement in this water source is along the Warrego and Narran rivers, which have not been included in the flow forecasts. Entitlements along the Culgoa River will not have a material impact to the target being met at Lake Wetherell.
This restriction does not apply to basic landholder rights or domestic, stock and local water utility access.
The temporary restriction in relation to the unregulated access licences does not apply to the take of water for testing metering equipment and does not apply to the take of water from farm dams.
The temporary restriction in relation to floodplain harvesting does not apply to passive take by works that cannot be reasonably prevented from taking.
The order provides for responsive management. Rainfall and inflows will be closely monitored during this period to determine if a repeal, amendment or advice to customers allowing pumping access is needed.
In times of extreme drought, protecting water supply for critical needs is a key priority. Despite recent rains, water levels along the Barwon-Darling and the Lower Darling remain critically low with Stage 4 water shortages and the Menindee Lakes is at record low levels.
The temporary restriction order applies to take by floodplain harvesting and unregulated A, B and C Class access licences in the Barwon-Darling (downstream of the Culgoa junction). The water flowing into and along the Barwon-Darling system is needed to ensure that critical needs can be met along the Barwon-Darling and to maintain that flow down the system into the Menindee Lakes for Lower Darling critical needs.
It is important to continue to protect inflows into storage and along the river for town water supplies, basic landholder rights and refuge pools and to achieve system connectivity as far as the Menindee Lakes, and the lower Darling.
Public interest test
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 above information, there is a public interest to continue to restrict take in the Barwon-Darling Floodplain and the Barwon-Darling (downstream of Culgoa junction) Water Sources until Friday 17 April as follows:
- “To cope with a water shortage” - Despite the recent rain across parts of the Northern Basin, the remaining water supplies in the Barwon-Darling unregulated and Lower Darling regulated rivers systems are at Stage 4 (critical) water shortage under the NSW Extreme Events Policy. Menindee township did not receive inflows from rain events in late 2019 and is yet to see flows from the recent rains in the north of the state. The Lower Darling River has not flowed for many months and the water level in the Menindee Lakes is currently at 0.7%. It is essential that flows in the Barwon Darling Unregulated Water Source and off the Barwon-Darling floodplains are protected to supply critical human needs along the system to Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling.
- “Threat to public health and safety” - Critical human water needs including high priority basic landholder rights, stock and domestic supplies have not been met in the Lower Darling since 4 December 2018. Townships along the lower Barwon-Darling and Lower Darling River have not had replenishment flows to meet domestic and stock needs for many months, and water is being carted in the Lower Darling for these purposes. It is essential that all inflows are protected for these higher priority critical needs.
- “Manage water for environmental purposes” - Flows from the recent rains are yet to make it down the full length of the Barwon-Darling to Menindee and the Lower Darling. Water resulting from the recent rains must be preserved to prevent the river system from becoming increasingly disconnected. The rainfall received must be allowed to flow to floodplain wetlands and pools that provide critical refuge for aquatic biota. The quality of water in remaining pools must be prevented from declining further and putting native fish (and other aquatic biota) at risk.
Executive Director, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment - Water Policy, Planning and Sciences
28 February 2020