About the Healthy Floodplains Project

Implementation dates for the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy have changed following disallowance of amendments to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 in 2020 and 2021, that defined the process for issuing floodplain harvesting licences and the measurement requirements on those licences. Therefore the dates specified in our reports and guidelines may be superseded.

The department is committed to this important reform to ensure that limits on take and measurement requirements, apply to floodplain harvesting. Licensing will bring floodplain harvesting into line with other forms of take, enabling monitoring and management and providing certainty in the provision of water required for the environment and other water users.


Water flowing across floodplains can be captured and used for irrigation. This is known as floodplain harvesting, it happens when water spills out from a river during a major flood or after a significant rainfall event. Together with other forms of water extraction, floodplain harvesting can push surface water take above the limits set out in NSW water sharing plans and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

For this reason, the management of flood water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin (northern Basin) is being reformed. The Healthy Floodplains Project is leading this reform through implementation of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy (PDF, 410.45 KB). It will ensure a more certain and sustainable future for all water users and the environment. Initially the focus is on the five northern Basin valleys:

  • Barwon-Darling
  • NSW Border Rivers
  • Gwydir
  • Macquarie
  • Namoi.

The reform will bring floodwater take in the northern Basin into the water licensing framework and reduce floodplain harvesting to within legal limits. This will be done by regulating floodwater harvesting through licensing, measurement and management. These changes will provide a solid foundation for adaptive management.

The reform will improve:

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

Implementation of the Policy is supported by a program of independent expert reviews to ensure management of floodwater reforms are robust and transparent.

Floodplain management planning

Floodplain management plans are required by the Water Management Act 2000 and are key to implementing the floodplain harvesting 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 now in force. The NSW Government continues to review and develop floodplain management plans across the Murray-Darling Basin as an ongoing practice. Learn about the review process and the current southern Basin plans.

To learn more about floodplain harvesting, see our fact sheets, infographics and videos. For more information about the implementation of the reforms, see the the Floodplain Harvesting Action Plan.

Acknowledgements

NSW Healthy Floodplains Project is funded by the Australian Government’s Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program as part of the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in NSW.