Questions and answers

The following are questions by topic asked from the registration and during the Water Engagement Roundup webinar recorded on Wednesday 20 July 2022.

Groundwater

Q. Does the department have a policy for underground water storage in form of underground weir, wholly on owned property and catchment?

A. Yes, the Aquifer Interference Policy (PDF, 505.49 KB) The proponent of that activity would be required to provide the information so that the Department could assess such an activity, its construction, and its use against minimum harm criteria.


Q. The Groundwater Strategy is overall a step in right direction, but many issues have been around for the last 20 years with limited progress. What additional resourcing, coordination between Departments responsible for water management and funding will be delivered so the community, industry and the environment see real changes occurring on the ground?

A. The NSW Government has put in place the Draft Guide to Groundwater Management (PDF, 23193.57 KB) as a process to guide funding in a strategic and targeted way and we are already seeing some of the flow of money as a result.

We acknowledge that some issues have been around for a long time and through the strategy we have tried to capture the historical issues and identify what is still outstanding. The strategy provides a framework to move those issues along over the next 20 years as well as implementation plans with shorter horizons including funded and unfunded actions.

We are currently working through the next level of detail of what concrete things need to happen to advance particular issues or challenges in the next three years.

To improve transparency, the implementation plans will be on public display and include monitoring, evaluation and reporting details with key performance indicators.


Q. Will Telemetry solutions be considered?

A. The groundwater team is focused on data collection via telemetry with the aim to provide better data and information to improve groundwater management. It is mentioned in the draft groundwater strategy, under the third priority, the need to increase telemetry systems to improve groundwater management and monitoring networks.

Our current monitoring network has over 4600 monitoring boards, of which about 400 are telemetered and the goal is to increase that number.

The data we have gathered through telemetry is provided on the WaterNSW real time data website.


Q. Will you be developing regional ground water strategies, ie. for the Lower Macquarie?

A. Groundwater issues at a regional level are being dealt with by the Regional Water Strategies. These strategies don’t limit themselves to surface water, they are also looking at groundwater issues, so they will be captured within the wider regional strategy process.


Q. Are all bores metered?

A. Some domestic bores used for domestic and stock purposes do not require a meter. The non-urban metering policy (PDF, 648.4 KB) outlines the rules and should be referred to.

Use of bores without a water access license is not allowed. If you are aware of a situation that may be breaking the rules of bore use, report it through the Natural Resource Access Regulator (NRAR) website who will follow up the case.


Q. Given the small percentage of Groundwater used by Local Water Utilities (Councils), why are they expected to do all the modelling work to determine secure yield to obtain concurrence from NSW DPE for their Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategies?

A. As part of the Regional Water Strategies work that is being undertaken, updated datasets have been developed for stream flows and the Department is now working with several councils to test how that data could be used to inform the Integrated Water Cycle Management process.

Similar datasets are not yet available for groundwater, but the Draft Guide to Groundwater Management (PDF, 23193.57 KB) has actions in it that aim to increase the Department’s data and modelling capability into the future. Hopefully this will start to provide some useful information that could assist councils in that process.


Q. Does this strategy have any link to the WaterNSW Groundwater Monitoring IOT Tender that is still under evaluation?

A. Directly no it does not. Indirectly, yes, under the third priority of making sure the Department has the right knowledge to support the protection and use of groundwater resources – through improved data collection and improved telemetry networks.

In the long term we are going to relook at our telemetry networks and the monitoring programs that use those WaterNSW networks. So in the longer term yes, but as for this particular tender, there is no link.


Q.  Have you any idea of how many stock and domestic bores you have in each area. Are they all registered?

A. Not all bores are registered and those that are registered can be seen on the WaterNSW real time data website.

If you are aware of a bore that is not registered, you can report it with NRAR who will investigate the issue.

When the Department goes through the water sharing plan remake processes, water is put aside for the environment and water is put aside for basic landholder rights. In the process for each area an estimation of the basic landholder rights now and over the next 10 years are made. You can find some of the details of how this is done in the background reports for the water sharing plans.


Q.  Draw down trigger levels exist in the WSP’s. This should account for any recharge issues linked to climate change, does this document seek to override these triggers?

A. The Draft NSW Groundwater Strategy does not override any existing triggers.

The Draft NSW Groundwater Strategy calls for better management of groundwater levels (see Action 1.4.2).


Q. If the population is increasing, and hence urban populations need to secure more water? Is it intended to redirect water from agricultural uses to industry and towns, and hence take water off farmers?

A. The available groundwater must be shared fairly between the environment and water users, and between different categories of water users.

Under normal circumstances, the priority order is: water source and dependent ecosystems, basic landholder rights, major utilities and local water utilities (town water), licensed domestic and stock, all other aquifer access licences.

The Water Management Act 2000 allows for an increase in town water entitlements due to population growth. However, many towns have entitlements which will allow a significant growth without the need for further entitlements to be granted. Demand for water by towns may therefore grow even without new entitlements, in the same way as growth in use can occur for underutilised industrial entitlements. If total usage exceeds the sustainable diversion limits, the Water Sharing Plan allows for allocations to be reduced to ensure total usage remains sustainable.

For further explanation of how groundwater resources are shared in NSW, see page 38 of the Draft Guide to Groundwater Management (PDF, 23193.57 KB).


Q. If all groundwater is licensed and metered? Why is there a gap to knowing how it is used, how much is used, and for what it is used for? 

A. A water access licence is required to ‘take’ water from any groundwater source in NSW, except for water taken under basic landholder rights or where exempt from licensing requirements by the legislation. A water access licence is not attached to a parcel of land. Nor is it tied to a particular use (e.g. irrigation or mining).

Knowing how much water licensed users take is critical for understanding and managing our groundwater resources, for protecting the rights of authorised users, and for enforcing the responsibilities of those that use this public resource. The NSW Government’s Non-urban water metering framework (PDF, 2423.98 KB) was introduced in 2018, and is designed to improve the standard and coverage of non-urban water meters across NSW by 2023.

For further explanation of how groundwater resources are metered in NSW, see page 31 of the Draft Guide to Groundwater Management (PDF, 23193.57 KB).

Water sharing plan

Q. What is the process for reviewing Water Sharing Plans. How will those who hold licenses be engaged in the process. What is the timeline for the process?

A. The Department informs water access licence holders of public exhibitions via letter, email, reminder emails, social media and the media via media releases.

Water access licence holders are informed that a public exhibition period is happening and how they can make a submission, what events are scheduled that they can attend to get more information, ask questions and to talk to an expert.

Information is put on to the Department’s Water website that has the exhibition periods advertised, how a submission can be made and where events are being held. Generally, a public exhibition will run for at least 6 weeks.

The stakeholder engagement section of the water website is a useful reference.


Q. Can you advise when you will be addressing water sharing plans on the North Coast?

A. New water sharing plans for the Lower North Coast, Central Coast, Coffs Harbour and Hunter unregulated rivers areas commenced on 1 July 2022. Conditions are being assessed in the Far North Coast, particularly around the Richmond and Tweed areas due to the recent severe flooding. The Richmond and Tweed water sharing plans are due to be replaced by 1 July 2023. We will be gauging the communities’ ability to be consulted about the replacement water sharing plans in the coming weeks. This will determine our approach for replacing these water sharing plans.


Q. GDEs and surface connectivity have been assessed and are included in the WSP’s. Are these insufficient? Why is there are need to further assess them?

A. Water sharing plans (WSP) are statutory instruments which establish rules for access to the state’s water resources. These plans are made under the Water Management Act 2000, which is designed to embed an adaptive management framework into water management.  While Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (GDEs) and surface connectivity have been assessed and included within the WSP, there is a need to review the knowledge and information available to inform these decisions as WSP are remade. The water sharing plan process has built into it audit, review and remake/replace steps. The intent of this is to be updating our management of water resources using the latest information.

The Draft Guide to Groundwater Management (PDF, 23193.57 KB) is a high-level strategic document that will provide an enhanced, state-wide focus on sustainable groundwater management over the next 20 years. A number of the strategy actions aim to improve the knowledge base to better understand recharge processes and rates, and the water requirements of GDEs, including understanding the impacts of future climate change on these processes.

The Draft Guide to Groundwater Management (PDF, 23193.57 KB) does not replace the need for Water Sharing Plans, but the review of WSP will be shaped by the direction set by the NSW Groundwater Strategy and will be directly informed by the outcome from implementation actions such as reviewing the approach to groundwater dependent ecosystems (see Action 1.3.1 and 1.3.2 page 55) and surface water groundwater connectivity (see Action 1.2.1).