Temporary water restrictions for the Lower Darling Regulated River Water Source

Reasons for decision

Temporary Water Restrictions (Lower Darling Regulated River Water Source) Order 2018

Background

There is a severe surface water shortage in the Lower Darling, with the Menindee Lakes system at a critically low level of about 6 per cent of capacity (holding about 100,000 megalitres) as of late November 2018. WaterNSW has been managing this shortage using a published drought management plan since mid- December 2017, and through regular meetings with water users.

A number of drought contingency measures have been implemented including minimising storage releases, pumping water to the most efficient storage locations and constructing block banks in the Lower Darling river to create small pools of critical water.

As dry conditions have continued, remaining resources must be dedicated to the highest priority needs including town water supply, stock and domestic and permanent plantings. Without a continued supply of water, permanent plantings will not survive.

This Order is in the public interest as it will help to ensure that water is protected for critical human needs and permanent plantings. This action has been foreshadowed for some months and represents the next level of contingency measures needed as the drought deepens.

The Temporary Water Restriction Order restricts the use of any available water to critical human needs and permanent plantings, plus the use of a limited volume of high security water from Copi Hollow.

Access for the one high security licence holder at Copi Hollow is permitted, because this will not risk water supplies to Broken Hill or unduly affect the refuge pool. The alternative is to restrict access to this irrigator which would leave stranded water unused and productivity foregone. No similar exceptions will be permitted under the Order.

Conversely, allowing irrigation to continue from other pools, particularly the small ‘block bank’ pools, by multiple Lower Darling irrigators will introduce competition for the limited resource and reduce the longevity of supply to the other higher priority needs. It is, therefore, appropriate that irrigation from these pools be restricted to permanent plantings only.

Temporary trade within the Lower Darling is not affected, however buyers must realise that deliverability and use restrictions apply. Trade into and out of the Lower Darling remains closed.

The Order will remain in place until the end of the current water year (30 June 2019), although the situation will be monitored and the Order may be modified or repealed prior to that date.

Reasons for decisions

Temporary water restriction – section 324

Section 324 of the Water Management Act 2000 (the 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 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 in the Lower Darling as follows:

  • "to cope with a water shortage” - Remaining water supplies in the Menindee Lakes and Lower Darling river are at critically low levels and must be protected for critical human needs and permanent plantings. Therefore restricted access is now required. While the restriction extends to the Copi Hollow pool, its higher supply level allows for some licence users to be exempt from the restriction of take from this pool.
  • threat to public health and safety” - Town water supply and domestic supplies are under threat without intervention, and mitigation measures are needed to extend supplies until additional inflows may eventuate or alternate delivery measures become available.

Rachel Connell, Executive Director, Department of Industry - Water

4 December 2018