General consultation

Below are some questions and answers that have been raised through consultation on implementation of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy.

Why is the NSW Government proposing 5-year account management rules?

Floodplain harvesting is highly variable in nature. The NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy requires that account management rules be developed on a valley-by-valley basis in conjunction with entitlements that recognise this variability. Account management rules aim to ensure floodplain harvesting take does not exceed legal limits and to equitably distribute impacts across individuals.

The size of modelled entitlements for floodplain harvesting access licences is directly linked to the length of the accounting period. An annual accounting framework, with no ability to carry over water between years, will result in large entitlements. Conversely, a five-year accounting framework would average out the water taken between years, resulting in comparatively smaller entitlements that represent average style take. The entitlements resulting from five-year accounting will return floodplain harvesting to within legal limits, while providing a range of environmental benefits and protecting against the effects of any future growth in use. They will also give licence holders an appropriate level of flexibility to carry over unused allocations between years.

How has the NSW Government considered connectivity when assessing and evaluating the volume of floodplain harvesting licences?

Under the NSW water sharing framework, connectivity between systems is managed through various mechanisms, but most significantly through extraction limits. These include the extraction limits set out in NSW water sharing plans and the Basin Plan. These limits cover all forms of take for the water resources, rather than limits on a certain form of take such as floodplain harvesting. In licensing floodplain harvesting we are considering the current entitlements and usage of other forms of take to ensure that the total limits are not exceeded. Further information on the downstream effects of implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy, including the issuing of licences under a particular scenario, is in the Modelled downstream effects of licensing floodplain harvesting in the NSW Border Rivers and Gwydir valleys report. The department is also considering other mechanisms that could be used to potentially deliver connectivity improvements. You can find more information about this on our Temporary water restrictions webpage.

What is the definition of floodplain harvesting?

Floodplain harvesting is defined in the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy PDF, 410.45 KB. Under the policy, floodplain harvesting is the collection, extraction or impoundment of any water flowing across a floodplain. This includes both overbank flow and rainfall runoff. Changes to this definition would require the endorsement of the NSW Government.

Will licensing floodplain harvesting in the northern Basin contribute to more inflows to the south?

Modelling of floodplain harvesting in the Border Rivers and Gwydir valleys has determined that current diversions have caused total legal extraction limits to be exceeded. Issuing floodplain harvesting licences will reduce these diversions and return more water to the floodplain and to rivers and creeks. Further modelling has been undertaken to quantify the effect that these foregone diversions will have had on downstream flows. This modelling is reported in the Modelled downstream effects of licensing floodplain harvesting PDF, 5300.99 KB in the NSW Border Rivers and Gwydir valleys report. This modelling shows that foregone diversions which are returned to floodplains, rivers and creeks will have negligible effect on flows and allocations in the southern Basin. More information can be found on the Impacts of Floodplain Harvesting Growth section of our FAQs.

What are the predicted environmental outcomes from implementing the floodplain harvesting policy?

Harvesting of water from floodplains reduces the volume, frequency and duration of floods and can change the timing of flood events, impacting on the health of floodplains and downstream waterways. Implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy will ensure that the take of water from floodplains, along with other forms of take, is within the legal limits established in water sharing plans and by the Basin Plan. This will provide a more sustainable level of water diversions from the floodplain which is expected to deliver significant environmental and downstream improvements. For example, in the Gwydir, implementation will result in around 50 GL/year average reduction in water take from the floodplain, which will directly support the health of floodplain wetlands. The department is assessing the expected environmental impacts of policy implementation across hydrological metrics for native fish, floodplain native vegetation, waterbirds, key ecosystems functions and wetlands for each valley. For more information, please see:

How will we know if licensing of floodplain harvesting is having the desired environmental outcomes?

The department is developing a comprehensive environmental monitoring evaluation and reporting (MER) plan for the five northern Murray-Darling Basin valleys. The plan includes a significant body of work that will allow us to monitor the environmental and downstream impacts of implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy. The plan will use information collected pre, at the start and post the implementation of the policy, including satellite imagery which can be used to track the changes on the floodplain before and after the Policy is implemented. This provides us with a longer period to assess how the floodplain has changed and if management is achieving the desired outcomes set out in the legislation. MER will provide information for statutory 5-year and 10-year review and amendment of relevant water sharing plans and evaluation of the Policy.

How do the floodplain harvesting reforms benefit First Nations people?

A key outcome of implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy will be to return floodplain harvesting to within the legal limits described by the Basin Plan and NSW water sharing plans. The process of establishing these limits involved significant consultation with all stakeholders including First Nations. We expect that there will be significant improvements for First National people associated with implementing the Policy from water remaining on the floodplain which can re-enter rivers supporting downstream flows. Returned water has the potential to improve water-dependent Aboriginal cultural assets and support important cultural practices, as well as improved environmental outcomes. The floodplain management planning process will result in improved protection of flood dependent cultural values and assets. The reform will also ensure accurate, reliable, tamper proof measurement of floodplain harvesting.

How will the NSW Government deal with illegal flood works?

Flood works that require management intervention in order to improve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes have been identified as part of the development of floodplain management plans in the northern Basin. The department has submitted a proposal to the Commonwealth Government for funding of an accelerated focussed program that will deliver on ground removal or modification of unlicensed flood works in high priority areas by 30 June 2024. These on ground works will be achieved through regulatory actions administered by the Natural Resources Access Regulator.

Is floodplain harvesting legal?

Historically yes, but there is some uncertainty about whether the take of floodplain harvesting without a licence or exemption under the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA) is legal. The department has produced information on this topic which is published on our website. It is the construct of the WMA that this historically legitimate floodplain harvesting be moved into the licensing framework within legal limits. This has been the intent of successive NSW Governments since 2000 and this program of works is nearing completion. Undertaking this work does not mean that the legal limits increase or decrease. Licensing and managing this historically legitimate form of take within legal limits will ensure fair access to all water users and the environment. Reducing current levels of floodplain harvesting so that it returns to legal limits is expected to deliver significant environmental and downstream improvements.

How confident is the NSW Government in the accuracy of the modelling for floodplain harvesting?

The department acknowledges that there is a significant amount of interest in the models used in implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy. The models are built using multiple lines of evidence including user surveys, on ground inspections, river flow and metered diversions, remote sensing, flood studies and hydraulic models. Each of the models are fully documented and independently peer reviewed before being released. Separately, the MDBA also have a role in assessing whether these models use best available information. All models have uncertainty and one of the key sources of uncertainty in the floodplain harvesting models is the lack of metering information that would have otherwise formed an important line of evidence for calibration. Improved metering and measurement of floodplain harvesting is a key outcome of the reforms, and will allow us to refine the modelling over time based upon the best available information. For information on how the river basin models have been built, the information used and level of accuracy, please refer to the Model Build reports, which are being developed for each valley and are available on our website.

How is existing floodplain harvesting accounted for in NSW Government's catchment scale water balance models?

The department has prepared detailed reports describing the approach to building its updated hydrological models, including information about the objectives, development process, data sources, results, and level of accuracy of modelling for each valley. Accounting for floodplain harvesting relies on water balance calculations at three different spatial scales: farm, river reach, and whole valley. An overview of this process is presented in Chapter 2 of the model build reports, with Chapters 4-7 going into more detail on components and processes. For more information, please refer to the model build reports for the Border Rivers, Gwydir and Macquarie valleys which are published on our website.

Why are there so many on-farm storages in northern valleys?

The hydrology and flows in northern valleys are highly variable and characterised by periods of higher-than-average flows followed by extended periods of lower-than-average flows. In response to this, landholders have built on-farm storages which provide for greater flexibility to extract and store water so that it is available for use during drier periods. There are lots of reasons for the presence of on-farm storages in northern NSW. On farm storages are typically used for multiple purposes including storing regulated deliveries in bulk, recycling, using irrigation water around the farm, storing groundwater or supplementary water that's pumped on opportunity, storing unregulated water and storing floodplain harvesting. The key point is that the storages are not used exclusively for floodplain harvesting.

Floodplain harvesting opportunity doesn't occur every year. Therefore, when considering development changes in the northern basin, 1 megalitre of increased storage does not equal 1 megalitre of additional floodplain harvesting. All changes in development conditions and resulting changes in diversions are shown transparently in our model reports on the website.

Why is the NSW Government implementing the NSW floodplain harvesting policy?

Floodplain harvesting has historically been recognised within legal limits set in water sharing plans, Cap and the BDLs under the Basin Plan. By licensing floodplain harvesting, any growth that has occurred will be brought back to within the legal limits, thus increasing the amount of water available for downstream systems.

Will the new floodplain harvesting rules in water sharing plans adhere to the priorities set out in the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW)?

Yes. Water sharing rules have been developed in accordance with the water management principles contained in the Water Management Act 2000. More information about our approach to addressing these principles can be found: