Temporary water restriction for Maules Creek Groundwater Source, Upstream Elfin Crossing

Reason for Decision

Temporary Water Restriction (Upper Namoi Zone 11 Maules Creek, Upstream Elfin Crossing on Maules Creek) Order 2019 (section 324 order)

Background

The groundwater within the Upper Namoi Zone 11 Groundwater Source is highly connected to surface water, especially upstream of Elfin Crossing on Maules Creek.

Independent research by the University of New South Wales has shown that upstream of Elfin Crossing, Maules Creek gains water from the underlying groundwater while downstream of Elfin Crossing, Maules Creek loses water to the underlying groundwater. Adjacent to Elfin Crossing, there is a series of perennial or near-perennial pools.

These pools are known to support habitat, maintain ecosystems and provide for environmental needs. The pools also act as a watering point for a Travelling Stock Route. Fish deaths were reported on 15 September 2019 upstream of Elfin Crossing.

There are approximately 100 bores accessing groundwater under basic landholder rights in this groundwater source. The ability to access groundwater for these domestic and stock basic landholder rights becomes increasingly impacted as groundwater levels reduce.

There has been no flow at the Maules creek Avoca East Gauge (419051) since March 2018. The groundwater observation bore (GW967137) levels near Elfin Crossing for 2019 have been the lowest on record.

Reasons for Decision

Temporary water restriction – section 324

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

Based on the information outlined in the Background section, there is a public interest in making an order to restrict take of groundwater from the area upstream Elfin Crossing in the Upper Namoi Zone 11 Maules Creek groundwater source, as follows:

  • “to cope with a water shortage” – Perennial pools in Maules creek and groundwater levels in the vicinity of Elfin Crossing are at historically low levels. There are approximately 100 basic landholder rights bores from which the ability to access water will be impacted as groundwater levels reduce.
  • “threat to public health and safety” – Continued depletion of pools has led to a serious deterioration of water quality in Maules creek, which is further aggravated by decaying fish biomass.  The quality of the remaining water in Maules creek is not fit for human consumption and contact with the water may well result in any number of heath or skin conditions. Reduction in groundwater inflows to the pools will exacerbate this problem.
  • “Manage water for environmental purposes” – Independent research1 by the University of New South Wales has shown that upstream of Elfin Crossing, Maules Creek gains water from the underlying groundwater. The research notes the importance of the Maules Creek perennial pools for habitat support and ecosystem maintenance.

Accordingly, the section 324 order is being made to help maintain the perennial pool levels in Maules creek and groundwater levels in the Upper Namoi Zone 11 Maules Creek aquifer.

Vanessa O’Keefe, Acting Executive Director - Policy, Planning and Sciences

11 October 2019