Posted On 14 Nov 2019
Commonwealth Environmental Water Office
1 November 2019
In line with both state and federal legislation, critical human water needs are considered first and foremost in water resource planning.
The NSW water resource managers in the Lachlan system are working extremely hard to manage difficult circumstances.
Leading into this water year, NSW indicated that there would be reduced access by all water users to water carried over from the last water year.
Subsequently 16 gigalitres, or 43 percent, of Commonwealth environmental water carried over on July 1 was quarantined by the NSW State government under the NSW Extreme Events Policy, which prioritises remaining water reserves towards meeting future critical human needs.
This is a demonstration by NSW that critical human water needs are provided before other water needs – including environmental water. It is a state responsibility to manage for critical human water needs, not individual licensed water users, and they have already done this with deciding the volume they will set aside for drought reserve.
As an environmental water holder with the same property right as other water users, we are already helping with the heavy lifting. Of the volume suspended for drought management in the Lachlan, environmental water holders have contributed 46 percent, despite owning only 20 percent of the entitlements.
The situation in the Lachlan is not unique. In the Macquarie Valley, we are unable to access our water. Like other general security entitlement holders, our water has been quarantined for drought reserves. We accept the limitations imposed by the state under the water resource planning framework to build their drought reserve.
NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Water) has scaled up community consultation on water resource management and provides regular and valuable advice.
Water NSW has also scaled up community consultation, and has provided thorough and astute information, including the role that Wyangala Dam has played. Water NSW advise that “all major towns in the Lachlan valley potentially have access to alternative supply sources”.
Today the Lachlan River is highly modified, with water captured and regulated in dams and weirs. These changes have reduced the size and variability of natural flows in winter and spring. Even in dry times, and before water was extracted from the river for irrigation and other human use, natural flows would have replenished the river more often than they do now.
The use of environmental water in the Lachlan valley is planned and coordinated with NSW government officials. Invaluable advice is provided by the community, including representatives from the irrigation industry, grazing sector, local businesses and recreational users. The Commonwealth’s environmental flows released this spring complement other watering actions undertaken this year by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
Rivers to the north and west of the Lachlan have been suffering from a lack of flows with rivers drying up and fish deaths occurring. We have learned some hard lessons, including that prevention is better than cure.
Environmental water was recovered for the purpose of avoiding further damage to the environment – especially in times of drought. In the Lachlan system, we have delivered water for the environment to build resilience in case conditions get worse, and to provide drought refuge when there is none further north.
Further information on the flows in the Lachlan River can be found at www.environment.gov.au/water/cewo/catchment/lachlan/water-use.