Blog | 7th Mar, 2019

Open Letter on Murray-Darling Basin Floodplain Harvesting in NSW

Dear The Hon Niall Blair MLC

NSW Minister for Regional Water

Huge amounts of water are being harvested from the floodplain in the Northern Murray-Darling Basin. The NSW Government admits this has increased significantly in recent years. Floodplain harvesting has major economic, social and environmental impacts throughout the Basin.

Australia Institute research shows it has contributed to reduced flows in the BarwonDarling/Baaka, contributing to the Menindee fish kills and town water crises. It impacts Aboriginal people, floodplain graziers, downstream communities and irrigators and the environment.

To date, floodplain harvesting has been unregulated and not even monitored or measured. The NSW Government proposes to issue free licences to return floodplain harvesting back to a historic level, but will not provide evidence of what that historic level is. At the same time, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority proposes to increase the legal limit of water diversions by the new NSW licence volumes.

The floodplain harvesting licences will be compensable, even though the wider policy is inconsistent with Federal and State legislation. This exposes governments and taxpayers to risks of compensation and legal challenges.

Regulating floodplain harvesting is crucial, but the current proposals for regulation and monitoring will make the problem worse. The NSW Government even proposes self-reporting of measurements taken with a dipstick. This is medieval technology trying to regulate 21st century agribusiness. This is just the latest example of repeated failure of water agencies at both federal and state level to manage our water in an equitable, transparent and credible way.

This repeated failure by governments is jeopardising the social licence of the entire irrigation industry. We urge you to immediately halt floodplain harvesting licences until a credible, modern and evidence-based system is in place.


David Papps
Former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
Terry Korn
President, Australian Floodplain Association
Chick Olsson
Director, Australian Wool Growers Association
Phil O’Connor
Mayor, Brewarrina Shire Council
Darriea Turley
Mayor, City of Broken Hill
Ken Ross
Acting General Manager, Wentworth Shire Council
Kevin Stacey
Convenor, Broken Hill and Menindee Lakes: We Want Action
Darren Clifton
Secretary, Darling River Action Group
Melissa Gray
Convenor, Healthy Rivers Dubbo
Badger Bates
Barkandji Elder
Fred Hooper
Chair, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations
Will Mooney
Executive Officer, Murray Lower Darling Indigenous Nations
Beverley Smiles
President, Inland Rivers Network
Ed Fessey
Chair, Lower Balonne Floodplain Association
Garry Hall
President, Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association
Kate Smolski
Chief Executive Officer, Nature Conservation Council of NSW
Anne Dickson
President, National Parks Association of NSW
Paul Pierotti
Vice President and Water Spokesperson, Griffith Business Chamber
Chris Brooks
Chair, Southern Riverina Irrigators
Caren Martin
Chair, South Australian Murray Irrigators
Alan Whyte
Chair, South West Water Users
Professor John Quiggin
Professor, School of Economics University of Queensland
Jonathan La Nauze
Chief Executive Officer, Environment Victoria
John Pettigrew
Spokesperson for Water Resources, Environmental Farmers Network
Shelley Scoullar
Chair, Speak Up
Ben Oquist
Executive Director, The Australia Institute
Rob McBride
Tolarno Station