Water eNews December 2019

Water news

DECEMBER 2019 | ISSUE  #11

Drought update

Drought update for December 2019

All of NSW is now effectively in drought, with widespread fires and possible extreme temperatures making the situation worse. Water shortages are no longer confined to the west of the Great Dividing Range, with coastal areas now at risk. Some coastal rivers have ceased to flow, or have record-breaking low flows, and many commercial licence holders are no longer permitted to pump because of low river levels.

All primary producers and landholders who rely on surface water supplies, including supplies from town water systems, should review their water supply situation and look at alternative supplies such as groundwater, or scaling back operations. This includes intensive livestock users and intensive agriculture.

The NSW Government's first priority in allocating water is to safeguard essential town water supplies. We may not permit industry users access to river or reticulated town water supply if it will put town water supplies at risk.

The NSW Government is doing everything it can to help local councils extend their available water supply or to access groundwater. The government has committed close to $3 billion in assistance to towns, rural communities and farmers. For information about assistance for primary producers, go to the NSW DroughtHub at droughthub.nsw.gov.au

We know current conditions are severely affecting many of our communities across the state. We’d like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of the NSW Rural Fire Service, countless community volunteers and staff. We thank them for their service.

It has been heartening to see people come together and look out for their neighbours during this difficult time. As the holiday season approaches, we remind you to stay alert and wish you a safe festive season.

More funding for rural communities

The NSW Government recently announced $87 million in additional funding to deliver more than 30 urgent water infrastructure projects, including:

  • $15 million for water carting into small regional communities
  • $38.66 million for critical town water infrastructure projects in northern and western NSW
  • $4.6 million to fund business and household water savings programs for towns most at risk
  • $29.5 million for capital water infrastructure projects, including planning and feasibility assessments for a new pipeline to connect Nyngan and Cobar to additional water supplies.

This funding will help maintain water supply to our regional communities for as long as possible, and sees the NSW Government’s drought support package approach $3 billion.

  • Read the media release.

Wellbeing support for rural communities and individuals

View of ramhp vehicle

If you or someone you know needs a helping hand, consider contacting the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health. It’s a statewide organisation dedicated to improving the mental health, wellbeing and resilience of rural and remote residents.

The Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) is the centre’s flagship program, and uses local coordinators to connect individuals to mental health support services and resources. The program also offers training to teach mental health and wellbeing skills to communities and workplaces.

You can find the contact details for your local RAMHP coordinator here.

Update from Ministerial Council meeting – 17 December

Minister for Water, Property and Housing, Melinda Pavey, met with state and federal ministers at the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council in Brisbane this week.

Minister Pavey highlighted the need for the Murray–Darling Basin Plan to be adaptable and flexible, and made clear the impact of the drought in NSW. Ms Pavey told ministers that ‘NSW is in the grips of the worst drought on record and our communities have been crying out for change for a long time’.

Deputy Premier Barilaro’s and Minister Pavey's statement following the meeting can be found online here

The communique from the meeting will be available on the MDBA website shortly.

NSW and Victoria publish independent review of constrains modelling

View of riverbank

The NSW and Victorian governments have published an independent review into the modelling of projects that would relax constraints in rivers in the Murray–Darling Basin. These projects would allow more effective delivery of water.

The review confirms that the projects will be very challenging to deliver, especially given the current project deadline of 2024.

The review also highlighted the importance of working closely and co-designing the projects with affected communities over a longer period of time. The review found that without changes, there is a high chance of the projects failing to deliver desired outcomes and benefits.

Natural Resources Access Regulator - working together

NRAR workshop listening to feedback

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has listened to feedback and made changes to help property developers comply with water laws.

NRAR met with a group of developers to pinpoint specific issues. After taking on feedback about making the approval process for waterfront works easier and faster, NRAR went back to developers in November to share its progress.

NRAR has reduced the application form to carry out waterfront works from 16 pages to six. NRAR has also:

  • put in place its own triage process to move applications faster
  • put out a campaign to local councils to inform them when applications need to go to NRAR
  • set up a formal industry reference group to receive ongoing feedback.

Collectively, these measures have helped reduce the application process time.

Participant Dane Bryan of ADW Johnson said he was impressed by NRAR’s efforts at speeding up the process. ‘We’ve recently had two controlled activity approvals all issued within three to four weeks—it used to take months’, he said.

Learn more about licensing and approvals on our website

Image caption: Director of Regional Water Regulation (West – Murray Darling), Graeme White, addresses the workshop, held at The Rocks in Sydney.

Keep your bore water safe - approval for bores near septic systems

Approval for bores near septic tanks diagram

To manage the risk of groundwater contamination from sewage, landowners who want to drill a bore near a septic system must get approval. The approval outlines where to drill a bore, under water sharing plan rules.

Department staff review the bore drilling application using hydrogeological information. The department also considers the location of nearby residences and the bore's planned use. Based on the findings, the department may approve the bore, sometimes with specific conditions. These conditions might require the landowner to ensure the water quality is suitable for the intended purpose.  In some cases the bore application is not approved because the septic system poses too high a risk.

The assessment process protects new bores, other groundwater users and the environment. It ensures groundwater will be safe and usable in the future.

  • Learn more about the assessment process for groundwater bore applications

Riverbank trees help protect our waterways

View of riverbank

Trees that line riverbanks, also known as riparian trees, protect waterways by helping filter pollutants and reduce bank erosion. They make up a critical part of the river ecosystem.

Our water science team is working with the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and other basin states on a collaborative, two-year project to track the health of riparian trees along inland NSW rivers. The project will look at riparian tree conditions over time, and in response to water availability, tree community type, and land use.

The first year of the project has resulted in improved knowledge exchange across the states and a standardised way of reporting. These reporting methods are being trialled across the basin in year two of the project. The research will also help inform the future management of riparian tree communities that benefit waterways.

Drought relief

View of rural drought paddock

Extension of fee waiver

As part of the extended NSW Emergency Drought Relief Package for 2019-20, the NSW Government is waiving fixed water charges for all domestic and stock and high security licence holders along the NSW Border Rivers, Lower Namoi, Upper Namoi, Peel, Macquarie and Lower Darling regulated rivers.

The NSW Government is continuing to provide financial assistance of up to $4,000 to all general water licence holders in rural and regional NSW across surface and groundwater systems, and to customers of Irrigation Corporation for the 2019–20 water year. The waiver will be automatically applied to landholders on their next bill.

WaterNSW is administering the waiver on fixed charges on behalf of the NSW Government.

  • For more information, visit WaterNSW or call 1300 662 077.

Domestic water carting rebate

The NSW Government is offering a $2000 rebate to assist eligible landholders with the costs of carting water or installing associated infrastructure to support domestic water supplies.

The rebate will apply to landholders who typically access water from regulated rivers for domestic supplies, but where flows have now ceased as a drought contingency measure.

  • For details of eligible locations, go to available drought assistance on the NSW DroughtHub at droughthub.nsw.gov.au

Eligible landholders can apply for the rebate from ServiceNSW when the program is operational in February 2020.


Water News is our monthly update on water planning, management and reform in NSW. If you have any questions or feedback contact us at:

NSW Government – Water Relations
Phone +61 2 9338 6600