Temporary Water Restriction - Northern Basin Floodplain Harvesting (Amendment)

Reason for Decision

Temporary Water Restriction (Northern Basin)(Floodplain Harvesting) Amendment Order 2020

Overview

In times of extreme drought, protecting water supply for critical needs is a key priority. Despite recent rain and flows into the Barwon-Darling, water levels in the Border Rivers and Macquarie remain critically low, and both systems remain at Stage 4 drought classification. Flows from recent rain have been forecast to reach as far as Wilcannia, along the Barwon Darling River. Protecting take from floodplain harvesting will assist in ensuring any further rainfall, and resultant flows, have an opportunity to reach Menindee and the lower Darling, particularly now the system has been primed by the current flows.

The overarching aim of the restriction is to ensure that critical needs (town water supply, basic landholder rights, high security and environmental needs) are met if inflows result from overland flows following the extended dry period – both in local river valleys, and if possible downstream in the Lower Darling and the Menindee Lakes. Placing a temporary water restriction order on floodplain harvesting is a way to achieve this aim.

Protection of overland flows resulting from this follow-up rain is in the public interest, due to the ongoing severe drought conditions. It ensures local critical needs (town water, domestic and stock, basic landholder rights, and critical drought refuge areas) are met from resulting inflows to the rivers, and will improve the likelihood of flows from this and subsequent events reaching the Lower Darling river systems and the Menindee Lakes.

This amendment to the temporary restriction order will apply to two additional floodplains of the northern basin - Lower Macintyre River, Whalan Creek & Boomi River Floodplain (from Yelarbon Crossing to Barwon-Boomi Rivers confluence) and the Lower Macquarie Valley Floodplain.

The order will apply to the take of water for the purpose of floodplain harvesting, except in the case where the take of water is by a work for the purpose of a tailwater return system. Take of rainfall runoff from irrigation fields with tailwater return drains will be exempt from the restriction, as this water is likely to be contaminated and irrigation properties are designed to retain this form of runoff. The passive take of water is also exempt where the nature of the floodplain harvesting work means that the take of overland flow cannot be reasonably prevented.

This order does not apply to the take of water for basic landholder rights (including harvestable rights).

Due to the unpredictable nature of where the rain will fall, and to what extent, the restriction (as amended) will apply to the following northern NSW floodplain catchments:

  • Barwon-Darling Valley Floodplain,
  • Gwydir Valley Floodplain,
  • Lower Namoi Valley Floodplain (as designated and amended under the Water Act 1912, Gazette No. 164 of 23.12.2005, p11253 and Gazette No. 139 of 28.09.1984, p 4848),
  • Narrabri – Wee Waa Floodplain (as designated under the Water Act 1912, Gazette No. 164 of 23.12.2005, p 11253)
  • Narromine to Oxley Station Floodplain (as designated under the Water Act 1912, Gazette No. 155 of 5.12.2008 and sometimes referred to as the Macquarie Valley Floodplain),
  • Upper Namoi Valley Floodplain,
  • Lower Macintyre River, Whalan Creek & Boomi River Floodplain (from Yelarbon Crossing to Barwon-Boomi Rivers confluence),
  • Lower Macquarie Valley Floodplain.

This amended temporary restriction is to apply from Wednesday 12 February up to and including Friday 28 February 2020.

The order provides for active management. That is, should substantial overland flows occur, and the river flows generated are in excess of that required for critical needs in the northern tributaries or downstream river systems, the Department can approve the take of water for floodplain harvesting. Rainfall and inflows will be closely monitored during this period to determine if a repeal, amendment or advice to customers allowing access is needed.


Background

In times of extreme drought, protecting water supply for critical needs is a key priority. Despite recent rains, water levels in the Border Rivers and Macquarie remain critically low with Stage 4 water shortages and the associated storages remain at record low levels.
Having a temporary restriction order on floodplain harvesting in these additional areas within the Border Rivers and Macquarie regions allows resulting flows to rivers to be protected for critical needs.

Menindee Lakes has not received inflows from rain events in late 2019 nor from the recent weekend rains. 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 all inflows are protected to support connectivity into Menindee Lakes and the lower Darling to supply water for critical human and environmental needs.

The overarching aim of the restriction is to ensure that critical needs (town water supply, basic landholder rights, high security requirements and environmental needs) are met if inflows result from overland flows following the extended dry period – both in local river valleys, and if possible downstream into Menindee Lakes and the Lower Darling. Placing a temporary water restriction order on floodplain harvesting is a way to achieve this aim.

Vanessa O'Keefe
A/ Executive Director, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment - Water Policy, Planning and Sciences

12 February 2020