Amended temporary water restriction for Barwon-Darling water source

Reasons for decision

Temporary Water Restriction (Barwon-Darling Unregulated River Water Source) Amendment Order 2019 (section 324 order)

Background

An existing s324 order in place on the Barwon-Darling unregulated water source (gazetted 15 April 2019) restricts unregulated river A, B and C Class access licences from Mungindi to Tilpa. This order is in place to protect a release of held environmental water by the Commonwealth and NSW flowing into the Barwon River from the Macintyre and Gwydir regulated rivers.

Following heavy rainfall from Cyclone Trevor in Queensland and some localised rainfall in late April, inflows were received in the Warrego River catchment and the water is now expected to flow into the Darling River. Rainfall has provided small inflows into several weir pools including Walgett, Brewarrina and Louth. More rainfall is occurring and additional flows to the Barwon-Darling are possible.

This significant recent rainfall has improved conditions in the Barwon-Darling and will enhance the success and reach of the protected environmental release. Flows from the Warrego River are now reaching the Darling River at Louth, and water is likely to extend further down the system than originally forecast. Flows are likely to continue from the Warrego for up to six weeks and will now flow beyond Tilpa towards Wilcannia and Menindee. It is prudent to apply a protection to this water to prevent take for irrigation if commence to pump flowrates are triggered, to ensure access for water for critical needs and to provide environmental benefits.

Reasons for decision

Temporary water restriction - 324

Section 324 of the Water Management Act 2000 (Act) allows the Minister or his delegate to direct, by order, that temporary water restrictions within a water source(s) have effect for a specified period, if the restrictions are determined to be in the public interest. Examples of the public interest referred to in section 324(1) include “to cope with a water shortage, threat to public health or safety or to manage water for environmental purposes”.

There is a public interest in making an amendment order to restrict take in the Barwon-Darling water sources as follows:

  • "to cope with a water shortage” – Remaining water supplies in the Barwon-Darling River are at critically low levels (drought criticality stage 4 under the Extreme Events Policy) and must be protected for critical human needs. Protecting flows throughout the Barwon-Darling will provide essential water for town supplies and stock and domestic use.
  • “threat to public health and safety” – town water and domestic supplies are crucial for public health and safety and are under threat without intervention. Some of the river reaches, including those below Tilpa have not received flows for 12 months and protection will provide for access and respite from enduring drought.
  • “Manage water for environmental purposes” – There have been devastating fish kills in the Barwon-Darling.  The protection affected by the proposed s 324 order targets replenishing refugia / pools in the Barwon-Darling River. Environmental water is being delivered from the north connecting the Barwon-Darling to Brewarrina and possibly Bourke. Protecting flows along the length of the Barwon-Darling River to Menindee can break a cease-to-flow event of over 100 days in duration in the Barwon River and improve drought refuge habitat, including water quality. Critical cease-to-flow periods in the Barwon-Darling are generally thought to be in the range of 50 to 100 days. Protecting flows below Louth and Tilpa will provide in-stream weir and rock pool maintenance, and given sufficiently sized flows, pool refreshing and connections.

The amendment order will extend the current s324 order to include the management zones between Mungindi and Menindee and continue until 30 August 2019. The order limits extraction of the river flows to critical supplies including town water and stock and domestic use.

Rachel Connell, Executive Director, Department of Industry–Water

6 May 2019