Floodplain Harvesting Flow Targets we’d like to see

In July 2022, then NSW Environment Minister Griffin gave concurrence to changes to three NSW Water Sharing Plans in the Gwydir, Border Rivers and Macquarie-Wambuul Catchments that included rules on how floodplain harvesting would be managed.

When rivers levels dipped below certain heights at specific gauges, floodplain harvesting of water has to stop. These measurements are called flow targets.

Minister Griffin’s own department, the Environment and Heritage Group advised the Minister not to sign off on the water sharing plans, as the targets proposed by Nationals Water Minister Kevin Anderson are so low, they are not consistent with the objectives of the Water Management Act that requires critical human needs and the environment to be prioritised over irrigation.

Despite writing to Minister Anderson to say he would not be signing off on the Plans with the extremely poor targets, Minister Griffin did succumb to the pressure from the Nationals and signed them off.

The Environment and Heritage Group developed a set of preferred flow targets for these water sharing plans. These documents were obtained through a Parliamentary Order for Papers. Here they are.

Have your say on the future of the Belubula River

The Belubula River starts between Bathurst and Blayney, and eventually flows into the Lachlan River. The source of this river could soon be buried under 50m of toxic slurry from a proposed gold mine.

Regis Resources has applied to build a new open-cut gold mine on Kings Plain near Blayney. The mining pit would be 1km wide and 450m deep. A tailings dam wall 1.5km long and 50m tall would hold back a slurry of waste containing cyanide, mercury, lead, molybdenum and many more heavy metals – the tailings from extracting gold from the ore.

Watch a video about this destructive proposal

Submissions to the Independent Planning Commission process are open until December 21st and you can help be downloading this simple submission guide, written by the Belubula Headwaters Protection Group, and having your say.

When the drought returns

With all the flooding around, it’s easy to forget that droughts will be back.

The last drought in the Wambuul-Macquarie was shocking.

Burrendong dam emptied quickly between 2017 and 2019, and soon after, fish and turtles were being rescued from drying green pools of water downstream of Warren.

As the dam approached 0%, plans were made to rescue platypus in anticipation of the river stopping at Burrendong, and Dubbo faced day zero.

But have we learnt our lesson?

No. The allocation settings for Burrendong have not changed. Burrendong dam will be emptied every two years, regardless of the climactic outlook.

The government could chose to consider the droughts that have happened since 2004 when determining water allocations – but they don’t. Here’s what they say:

“After the Millennium Drought, NSW opted not to take a more conservative approach to its water allocations to improve water security for critical needs in the event of a future severe drought. Rather, in the event of the next drought, it was preferred to use other emergency drought mitigation measures to support communities. These include carting water for some domestic uses and restricting access to carryover water in general security licence accounts to meet higher priority needs.

In the wake of the recent drought, there are again calls to reduce water allocations to mitigate the impact of future droughts—that is, to be more conservative in how much water is allocated over a particular period to keep more water in reserve. However, this could potentially have a cost to productivity across non-drought years.” NSW Water Strategy page 88.

The government would rather let the river run dry than reduce water used for irrigation.

Read Healthy Rivers Dubbo’s submission to the second draft Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy.

Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group

The Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group (or the Environmental Flows Reference Group – EFRG) is made up of representatives from a range of local interest groups, who provide advice on planning, management and monitoring of water for the environment in the mid and lower Macquarie valley.

NSW Nature Conservation Council has been represented on the Macquarie Cudgegong Environmental Water Advisory Group since it’s inception in 2000.

Meeting summaries:

River Community snubbed

Representatives of 22 groups from inland NSW wrote to the Premier in July, raising serious concerns with the government’s floodplain harvesting regulations.

Both the Premier and the NSW Water Minister have refused to meet with community members.

This group is a true representation of the communities who will feel the brunt of the floodplain harvesting policy. The group includes Traditional Owners, floodplain graziers, recreational fishers and tourism operators, as well as concerned regional residents.

Daily Liberal, 4 Oct 22 Healthy Rivers Dubbo’s Mel Gray among 22 representatives calling out Water Minister Kevin Anderson’s ‘controversial’ laws


Concerns of numerous groups have been ignored after they sent an open letter condemning the NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson’s floodplain harvesting regulations in water systems including the Wambuul Macquarie river.

The regulations are so divisive that they were disallowed in the NSW Upper House for the fourth time last week, in a vote of 16 for and 15 against.

Blackwater in the Darling-Baaka

Blackwater event happen when a lot leaf litter and other carbon from floodplains is washed into rivers during big flood events. When floods become less regular, the healthy balance is lost – too much carbon builds up and blackwater events become dangerous.

More frequent overbank flood events would reduce the instance of blackwater events. In recent decades the over allocation of water licences and a sharp increase in floodplain harvesting has created a perfect storm for the Darling-Baaka.

Following is a comprehensive update from the NSW Government on the event currently impacting the river.

Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry


Select Committee on Floodplain Harvesting

HRD is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Select Committee on Floodplain Harvesting (the inquiry). We wish to express our gratitude to all Representatives who were involved in the two disallowance motions of the Floodplain Harvesting (FPH) Policy regulations in the Upper House, and the establishment of this inquiry.

HRD considers that FPH is an unlawful practice, and that Governments, Authorities and Agencies have turned a blind eye to the practice.

There are no legal levers between FPH policy and the water sharing priorities under the WMA (ss. 5(3) and 9(1)), which include water for ecosystem health and basic landholder rights (stock and domestic; native title rights).

The NSW Water Minister received internal legal advice that stated that on the balance of probabilities, taking water without an access licence is most likely unlawful. Building on-farm storages to house that illegally obtained water without the appropriate approvals would also be unlawful. This advice was withheld from the public until the Minister was urged in Parliament to release it.[1]

The irrigation industry has grown large and politically powerful in recent decades and in HRD’s view has too much influence on water policy at every level. The extent of this wealth and power has come from the illegal take of water.

In many parts of the world through history and to the present day the textile industry has used slavery to grow large and powerful. Only the erosion of social licence through community advocacy can bring about justice for the Environment, First Nations Peoples and the wider community.

HRD will argue in section 1 that: 

  • Volumes of FPH to be licenced must be brought under the Cap, and that the Cap should not stretch to accommodate FPH volumes. In the Macquarie Valley that means zero FPH.
  • The NSW Government is accommodating the irrigation industries arbitrary claim that environmental water in the Macquarie is ‘over recovered’. A claim HRD rejects outright and presents evidence to show that ‘over recovery’ is not a thing.
  • The draft Floodplain Management Plan 2018 must include clear process to ensure all illegal floodplain works are removed. The Floodplain Management Plan 2018 for the Macquarie is still not gazetted, which must happen ASAP.


[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2021-05-26/illegal-floodplain-harvesting-government-legal-advice-uncertain/100164210

Healthy Rivers Dubbo Public Meeting – June 2021

The Healthy Rivers Dubbo Alliance facilitated a public meeting about the proposed Gin Gin dam project on the Macquarie-Wambuul River.


Introduction (Mel Gray, facilitator) start to 7.30

Tony Lees (Trangie) 7.30 to 12.55

Professor Richard Kingsford (UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science) 13.18 to 36.14

Garry Hall (Private Ramsar Wetland Manager) 36.30 to 49.20

Bev Smiles (President Inland Rivers Network) 49.40 to 106.35

Question and Answer session 107 to end

Dubbo Photo News 1/7/2021

The Daily Liberal 26/6/2021 Healthy Rivers Dubbo hosts Gin Gin Dam public meeting

Gin Gin re-regulating dam plans slammed by NSW Government.

Last year in an assessment of the project plans for the Gin Gin dam (Macquarie River re-regulating storage project) the Deputy Secretary of DPIE Water Jim Bentley said the project plans had significant deficiencies, and did not meet the requirements to demonstrate value for money and prudent use of public funds.

The Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund project proposal spelt out the reason for the dam –

The largest agricultural use of water in the valley is for irrigated cotton production downstream of Dubbo. This industry is underpinned by water and many of these users hold general security water licences. The investigation of a re-regulating weir will help determine whether the infrastructure will improve the reliability of water for these users in the context of a more variable future climate.

The State significant infrastructure development application for the proposal MUST be cancelled, as the proposal is only for the benefit of the cotton industry.

The expected capital cost of the proposal was also divulged in a release of documents through the NSW Parliament – a massive $84 million before the inevitable cost blow outs.

That is an enormous amount of money to be spent subsidising a privileged industry that is about to be gifted hundreds of millions of dollars of brand new compensable mortgagable property rights as floodplain harvesting licences.

With over 62,000 megalitres of floodplain water licences about to be gifted, why should the public pay an additional $84 million for a destructive project that would offer irrigated cotton another 14,500 megalitres a year? When is enough enough?

Community calls for the business case to be released in it’s current form continue:

  • Will the impact on irrigation in the unregulated Macquarie River downstream of Marbone weir be assessed?
  • What about the huge knock to the recreational fishing industry?
  • The Macquarie Marshes will be devastated
  • There will be fewer kayakers coming to the valley
  • The best camping spot on the Mid-Macquarie will be destroyed
  • There will be less water in the Warren weir

This proposal was dubbed an ineffective use of public funds in February last year, and funding for the business case was delayed by 8 months because of the plan’s significant deficiencies. Once a dud, always a dud – time to dump the Gin Gin dam plan.

NSW Treasury and the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund tend to agree. Treasury withheld funding for the business case, and the Snowy Hydro Legacy fund flatly refused a request to fund the Environmental Impact Statement.

Documents seen by HRD state that the estimated $84 million capital expense will not be coming from the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund, as earlier anticipated. No-one wants to pay for this enormous dud.

Read our supplementary submission to the Upper House Inquiry into the rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW here.

In September 2019 HRD made a submission to the NSW Upper House Inquiry into the rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW.

Our original submission went into detail about:

  • Macquarie River re-regulating storage project
  • Raising of Wyangala dam wall
  • Mole River dam
  • Dungowan Creek dam
  • Western Weirs project

Healthy Rivers Dubbo comments on NSW draft water strategy


Healthy Rivers Dubbo (HRD) is a grass roots community network dedicated to providing a strong voice for our local rivers, aquifers and wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin for the benefit of wildlife, plants and people. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and acknowledge that this land was never ceded.

HRD understands the importance of strategic planning, and support the principle of a NSW Water Strategy. However this document has come after the issue of several draft regional water strategies, and we feel it lacks a clear pathway to ecologically sustainable water use for the next 20 years.


HRD has being following the implementation of the WRAP[1] process, including the transparency element.

From our perspective, there have been many opportunities and imperatives for NSW to vastly improve transparency of information, and reduce complexity in water management. We consider on the whole these opportunities have been missed by NSW.

HRD was dismayed that NSW accepted the findings of an independent review in the Matthews report that found full transparency, as proposed by the Matthews Report would expose commercially sensitive information and be too expensive.[2]

Earlier this year NSW put out a consultation paper about the transparency of water trading and water ownership information in NSW. HRD finds it unacceptable that all NSW is doing is re-organising aggregated valley wide information that has always been available.

If NSW was serious about transparency, there would have been immediate steps to develop a free access public water register following the Matthews Report containing the following information about every water access licence holder:

  • information on the location of the license;
  • clear transparency on the owner of the licence;
  • site use approvals;
  • real-time quantity of extraction under each licence;
  • historic pumping times, dates and river level;
  • trading of licences within and across valleys, and both zero-value and costed trades;
  • storage capacity of all works; and
  • a list of convictions against each water licence.

HRD considers NSW should immediately reassess its response to the Matthews Report instead of deferring a commitment to transparency to a 20 year strategy. We find that NSW putting transparency as priority one in the draft water strategy is un-reconcilable with recent actions.

Priorities of the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA)

In December 2020 the Independent Commission against Corruption released a report into water management in NSW.[3]

The report detailed a history of water agencies’ ‘undue focus on irrigator’s interests’, including more than a decade of failure to give ‘proper and full effect to the objects, principles and duties’ of the Water Management Act 2000.

HRD has followed the development of NSW Water Resource Plans, and have concluded than none of the NSW Water Sharing Plans we looked at met the obligations of the Basin Plan. Some examples that let down the WMA priorities are:

  • Class A licences still operate on the Barwon, pulling out low flows.
  • There are still no end of system targets in many Water Sharing Plans like the Macquarie and the Lower Darling-Baaka.
  • The definition of Planned Environmental Water in several Water Sharing Plans is different to the full definition in the WMA.

Connectivity is critical for rivers of the Murray Darling Basin, especially the Darling-Baaka River. Water Sharing Plans should talk to each other, and through the inclusion of end of system targets, connectivity must be enshrined in water sharing rules.

HRD is very encouraged to see the results of the climate change forecasts that have been included in the draft Regional Water Strategies. However we are extremely concerned that climate change forecasts are not included in the modelling that determined the unit shares of floodplain harvesting entitlements in the Border Rivers, Gwydir and Macquarie Water Sharing Plan rules.

There is a legal imperative for NSW to use the best science available and make decisions about water management so that extraction is limited to ecologically sustainable levels. HRD is pleased to be a dedicated environmental stakeholder in the water management process, and is committed to working with NSW towards a future with sustainably managed waterways.

First Nations Rights to Water

HRD stands by the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and their statement:

“Federal and state water management policy, programs and projects should result in spiritual, cultural, environmental, social and economic outcomes that are equitable, sustainable and appropriate for all First Nations people.”

HRD stands by the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and their statement:

“First Nations have inherent rights to use and manage waterways, in order to sustain our cultural traditions and build sustainable livelihoods for our communities.

These rights are recognised in international agreements and protocols, as well as in Australia’s domestic law and policy.”

We agree with MLRIN that all Australian Governments including NSW have failed on these commitments.

HRD does acknowledge the effort NSW made in consulting with First Nations groups for the draft Regional Water Strategies, and hope there are some meaningful outcomes for all parties as a result.

Murray Darling Basin Plan

Most of the extraction of water from the Murray Darling Basin happens in NSW, therefore it is logical that most of the water recovery must come from NSW as well. There is no unfair burden on NSW compared to other states to recover water for the rivers when one considers the great privilege NSW industries have had extracting the lion’s share of water for over 100 years.

Given that the Basin Plan began nine years ago, it is a concern to environmental stakeholders that NSW is behind by 276,000 megalitres in water recovery.

HRD does not support an extension of time beyond 2024 for the full implementation of the Basin Plan.

HRD objects to water that is extracted being referred to as ‘productive water’ when rivers, wetlands, aquifers and floodplains are extremely productive environments when they have enough water.

Most communities and businesses in the Murray Darling Basin are not irrigation based, and rely completely on healthy rivers, wetlands, floodplains and aquifers to survive. In the Northern Murray Darling Basin large scale irrigation has only been around since the 1980s and 1990s. Regional towns like Warren have been around a lot longer than that, and with larger agricultural job markets since highly streamlined monoculture irrigation corporations stepped in.

HRD objects NSW conflating corporate irrigation enterprises (often owned by large multi-national conglomerates) with ‘our towns and communities’, and asks NSW to see our Basin communities for who we really are.

There is no escaping the fact that a sustainable volume of water must be returned to the river system from irrigation. The volumes signed off on in the Basin Plan are heavily compromised and don’t take climate change into consideration.

HDR asks the NSW Government to support the Federal Government to buy back more water for rivers through voluntary, open-tender processes.

Dam Projects

There is a lot of stress and concern stirring in communities over several dam and infrastructure projects in NSW. The Regional Water Strategies presented some of these projects as done deals:

  • Wyangala dam wall raising
  • Macquarie River re-regulating storage project
  • Dungowan Creek dam
  • Mole River dam

The community are worried about the impacts to industries like recreational fishing ($1 billion a year in the Basin), tourism, unregulated downstream irrigation and floodplain grazing.

The business cases for all of these projects must be released as soon as they are complete. The business case for the Macquarie project is ready to a point and could be released now.


HRD will always support a good strategic plan, and considers that the NSW draft water strategy could use some more workshopping.

Healthy Rivers Dubbo is pleased to work with NSW into the future as an environmental stakeholder, and is grateful for the opportunity to be involved with the development of water management rules in NSW.

For more information contact: healthyriversdubbo@gmail.com


[1] Water Reform Action Plan (NSW DPIE – Water)

[2] NSW ICAC report Investigation into complaints of corruption in the management of water in NSW and systematic non-compliance with the Water Management Act 2000.

[3] ibid