Technology helps NRAR close 1,109 investigations during global pandemic

Media release | 9 December 2020

Throughout the pandemic, technology has played a key role in keeping communities safe, virtually connected with our loved ones and entertained, through a variety of streaming services and digital medias.

It has also helped the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) keep the state’s water resources safe during the lockdown.

While many of us were adapting to the “new normal” — social distancing, staying home and abiding by new lockdown measures — NRAR was also adapting.

The regulator’s duties to monitor, assess and investigate water usage across the state meant it had to quickly adapt to the new challenging circumstances. Like other agencies, it also had to be versatile and resilient.

Grant Barnes, Chief Regulatory Officer (CRO) at NRAR explains how the regulator turned to satellite imagery, drones, motion-activated surveillance cameras and aerial photography.

“Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, our team continued to work (from a distance) to get the job done,” said Mr Barnes.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, our technology, and the willingness of our team to adapt, enabled us to finalise 1,109 investigations, which is almost a 64 per cent increase on the same time period in 2019.”

Between March and November 2020, the regulator took a total of 423 enforcement actions, which included the commencement of eight prosecutions, 131 penalty infringement notices, 111 statutory notices and 173 formal warnings during those difficult months.

By using state of the art technology, NRAR was able to cast a wider and more reliable net over the complex land that spreads across regional NSW. This includes riverside works and dams, which are otherwise difficult to access on foot.

From a remote location, NRAR can accurately calculate the volume of water storage units, including on-farm dams. The regulator can then notify water users of any potential breach of water laws, using this sophisticated image processing software.

NRAR can also gather data in cases that may require further investigation for possible breaches of NSW water law.

“We now literally have eyes in the sky – so the chances of being caught for substantial and wilful non-compliance is just not worth the risk,” warned Mr Barnes.

To see the work NRAR does, go to its public register on the NRAR website industry.nsw.gov.au/nrar. Go to ‘Reports and data’, then ‘NRAR Public Register’.

To make a confidential report on suspected water misuse, contact the NRAR Hotline on 1800 633 362 or email nrar.enquiries@nrar.nsw.gov.au.

Watch a short video about how NRAR is using technology to tighten up water compliance in NSW.

NRAR drone technology