About the Healthy Floodplains Project

Amendments were made to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 on 17 December 2021. These amendments replace those that were disallowed on 6 May 2021. The disallowance and subsequent NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the NSW Government’s management of floodplain harvesting mean that implementation dates for the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy remain uncertain. The dates specified in our reports and guidelines may therefore be superseded.

The management of flood water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin (northern Basin) is being reformed. The Healthy Floodplains Project is implementing those reforms (PDF, 410.45 KB). The reforms are supported by funding from the Commonwealth Government’s Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program, as part of Basin Plan implementation in NSW.

Water flowing across floodplains can be captured and used, reducing the amount of water entering rivers, and other water bodies. This is known as floodplain harvesting. The reform is focused on the northern Basin valleys of the Barwon-Darling, NSW Border Rivers, Gwydir, Macquarie and Namoi. Modelling shows the amount of floodplain harvesting in some valleys when combined with all take, causes water source legal limits described in NSW water sharing plans and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, to be exceeded.

The purpose of the Healthy Floodplains Project is to ensure a more certain and sustainable future for all water users and the environment.

Floodplain management planning

Floodplain management plans are key instruments for implementing the reforms. The plans establish management zones, rules and assessment criteria for granting and amending approvals for flood works. All northern Basin floodplain management plans developed as part of the Healthy Floodplains Project are in force.

Floodplain harvesting

Regulating the harvesting of floodwater through licensing, measurement and management of floodplain extractions in the northern Basin, is another major component of the Healthy Floodplains Project.

Implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy, will bring take of floodwater into the water licensing framework and reduce floodplain harvesting to within legal limits. This will improve:

  • accounting and management of flood water take
  • flows for all downstream users on the floodplains
  • clarity on the rules for all water users and the regulator
  • river health and connectivity between important ecosystems
  • outcomes for native fish, birds, plants and other wildlife (for example a major improvement in water requirements for some waterbirds in the Ramsar-listed Gwydir Wetlands).

Into the future, these changes provide a solid foundation for adaptive management. Implementation is also supported by a program of independent reviews to ensure management of floodwater reforms are robust and transparent.

Water supply work approvals and floodplain harvesting licences for all five northern Basin valleys are scheduled to be in place from July 2021. The process and timeframes are set out in the Floodplain Harvesting Action Plan.

NSW Legislative Council inquiry into floodplain harvesting

The Select Committee on Floodplain Harvesting was established on 23 June 2021 to inquire and report on the Government’s management of floodplain harvesting. Read the Select Committee’s final report.

Learn more about floodplain harvesting.