New rules and regulations

Better managing environmental water in the NSW northern Murray–Darling Basin

Under the Water Reform Action Plan, we committed to better managing water for the environment. To do so, the Water Management Act 2000 was amended in 2018 to allow some water sharing plans to be revised to include new rules for managing water for the environment.

We are progressing the development of a new policy measure, called active management, to protect held environmental water (HEW) that is to remain in the river.  This measure aims to protect HEW from extraction when it flows into and along downstream unregulated water sources.  This HEW may have been released from upstream regulated river storages or originated from an unregulated HEW licence within the downstream unregulated water source.  Under the current regulatory framework this water may be legally extracted in the downstream unregulated water source, if the flow is sufficient to trigger access conditions for licensed extraction.

It is proposed to actively manage held environmental water in these water sources so it can remain in-stream to be used for its intended environmental purpose.  Active management also aims to provide more certainty about how flows are managed and make it clear when water can and cannot be taken.

We are examining the following solutions:

  • Actively managing held environmental water in-stream so that it achieves its intended purpose, there is more certainty about how flows are managed and it’s clear when water can and cannot be taken.
  • Managing flows when they resume in the Barwon-Darling, after an extended dry period to protect refuge pools and their connectivity.
  • Limiting daily water take in the Barwon-Darling to share access to flow among users and to minimise local environmental impacts.

We are committed to understanding the benefits and impacts of these proposed measures. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to comment on proposed changes in the second half of 2019, once the analysis is available.

We are also undertaking work to better understand the hydrological connectedness of the rivers and streams in northern NSW.

For more information about measures being progress, view the Better management of environmental water in NSW - Northern Murray-Darling Basin Snapshot and the Better management of environmental water - progress report for details of progress.

Water resource plans and water sharing plans

We are currently developing twenty Water Resource Plans (WRPs) across NSW, some of which are currently on public exhibition.

The WRPs are an important part of implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Each water resource plan sets out rules for how water is used at a local or catchment level.

These new rules include new limits on how much water can be taken from the system, how much water will be made available to the environment, and how water quality standards can be met.

Water resource plans outline how each plan area aims to achieve community, environmental, economic and cultural outcomes and ensure that state water management rules meet the Basin Plan objectives.

Water Sharing Plans (WSPs) are a major part of the WRPs and the principal legislative instruments for water planning in NSW. As such, WSPs are being redrafted to more effectively implement the Basin Plan. This includes an update of the environmental objectives.

Southern Basin Pre-requisite Policy Measures

When setting the Sustainable Diversion Limit, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) assumed that certain policies measures (known as pre-requisite policy measures or PPMs) would be in place. PPMs aim to maximise the environmental benefits from the use of held environmental water. Without PPMs in place, more environmental water would need to be recovered.

PPMs provide for the use of held environmental water at multiple sites (environmental flow reuse) and the opportunity to order environmental water from a headwater storage during a natural flow event (piggybacking).

In NSW, PPMs are implemented in the Murrumbidgee and NSW Murray and Lower Darling regulated river systems — view more information on NSW implementation of PPMs. Further information on is also available from the Murray–Darling Basin Authority.

Temporary water restrictions to protect water for environmental purposes

The power to make a temporary water restriction under section 324 of the Water Management Act 2000 was amended in 2018 to make it clear that ‘managing water for environmental purposes’ is within the scope of the existing public interest test in relation to making temporary water restriction orders.

This change was made to make it beyond doubt that the management of water for environmental purposes could be a purpose that would meet the public interest test. It does not provide a new power under the Act, merely clarifies an existing one.

To find out more about temporary water restrictions including restrictions currently in place or recently repealed.