Changes to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 for floodplain harvesting in NSW

In 2008, the NSW Government declared that water users taking water directly from floodplains need to hold a licence and a water supply work approval.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has developed the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy and the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy. Together, these policies provide a framework for licensing and measuring floodplain harvesting take. To have legal force, these policies must be incorporated into the legislative framework.

Due to the disallowance of the amendments to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 changes on 6 May 2021, the timelines for expected dates that licensing would come into effect for the Border Rivers, Gwydir, Macquarie, Barwon Darling and Namoi valleys are no longer current.

The department is working through the implications of the disallowance, and options for how we proceed are being considered. We remain committed to the task of regulating floodplain harvesting to legal limits set out in NSW water sharing plans and the Basin Plan so that we can meet our legislative obligations, improve environmental and connectivity outcomes and provide clarity for all water users and the regulator.

Consultation on proposed regulatory amendments

As part of the legislative process, the department consulted the public and stakeholders on four packages of proposed amendments to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 between 23 November and 20 December 2020. These four packages included:

  1. Licence determination - the process for how actual or proposed floodplain water usage by landholders will be converted into replacement floodplain harvesting licences.
  2. Measurement - the requirements for measuring and reporting floodplain harvesting take as specified in the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy.
  3. Tailwater drain exemption - an exemption to hold a licence and works approval for rainfall runoff collected in a tailwater drain.
  4. Transitional exemption* - a temporary exemption from the need to hold a licence and works approval ahead of commencement of the licensing framework commencing through implementation of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy.

Outcomes of consultation on the proposed amendments

There are three reports available on the outcomes of consultation:

Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 changes adopted on 28 April 2021 and disallowed on 6 May 2021

Following consultation and the legislative process, changes to the Regulation include:

1. Licence determination

Sets out the staged process for determination of floodplain harvesting licences. If a landholder meets the requirements of each stage, a floodplain harvesting access licence will be issued, with share components determined in accordance with the Regulation.

This Regulation provides clarity for landholders and the broader public, outlining what steps the department must legally follow to determine a floodplain harvesting access licence. It makes sure the process is consistent in each valley where floodplain harvesting licences are issued, both now and in the future.

A booklet for landholders with licences on unregulated rivers in NSW - Volumetric Conversion – the next stage – September 2.

2. Measurement

Sets out the measurement requirements that apply to floodplain harvesting, in line with NSW Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy.

Storages used to collect water under a floodplain harvesting access licence must be fitted with compliant metering, data logging and telemetry equipment, and tamper-evident seals. Equipment must be installed and signed off by a ‘duly qualified person’.

The changes also set out requirements for reporting water take during a flood event and processes to follow if metering equipment fails.

3. Tailwater drain exemption

This exemption is in recognition that measuring rainfall run-off collected in a tailwater drain is complex. Much of the run-off may be used irrigation water that has already been measured under an existing water access licence. This change provides an exemption from the need for: a) a water supply work approval for the use of tailwater drain; and b) a water access licence for the collection of rainfall run-off.

This exemption applies when no other overland flow is being taken by works on the land, other than a tailwater drain. When this exemption does not apply, the volume of water collected in a tailwater drain must be measured and accounted for under a licence.

* Based on submissions received and the limited period that it would apply, the NSW Government has decided not to proceed with the proposed transitional exemptions.