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.



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:


[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

Gin Gin Community Day – Sunday 21st February 21

You’re Invited …

Learn more about plans to build a large new re-regulating dam on the Wambuul-Macquarie River at Gin Gin, between Narromine and Warren in Central West NSW.

Facebook Invitation

Project Information by the Wambuul Alliance
The event will be held on the southern side of the river. For more details call Mel 0431 471 310

Submission to Floodplain Harvesting Amendment Dec 2020 – Healthy Rivers Dubbo

Submission Proposed legislative amendments for floodplain harvesting in NSW

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, present and future, and acknowledge that this land was never ceded.

HRD supports the licencing and regulation of floodplain harvesting, however the impact of floodplain harvesting on the environment, First Nations communities and cultural values and downstream river communities must be assessed. HRD is pleased to have the opportunity to provide comment on the proposed legislative amendments for floodplain harvesting in NSW.

HRD objects to the four proposed amendments to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.

Floodplain harvesting (FPH) has had a significant impact on the resilience of the lower Darling-Bakka River, and of the tributary rivers that feed the Darling-Baaka where floodplain harvesting is concentrated – the Gwydir, Border Rivers, Barwon, Namoi and Macquarie.

Increasingly since 1994, FPH has denied significant volumes of water to floodplains, wetlands, aquifers, creeks and rivers. Denying these flows to the environment has resulted in landscapes being less resilient in dry times, and is a contributing factor to the Barwon and Darling Rivers ceasing to flow in November 2020.

Floodplain harvesting was mentioned as a contributing factor to the Menindee fish kills in the Independent assessment of the 2018-19 fish deaths in the lower Darling (Vertessy report)[1] and the SA Royal Commission into water management in the Murray Darling Basin. FPH was identified as a factor to the Barwon-Darling River being called an ecosystem in crisis in the Natural Resources Commission review of the Barwon Darling Water Sharing Plan in 2019.[2]

The significant and increasing impact that FPH has had on downstream environments, First Nations communities and critical human need requirements must be assessed before the hand out of several billions of dollars of tradable, compensable, mortgageable property rights in the form of FPH licences. As the Environmental Defenders Office and the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists recently published “…conferring permanent property rights to irrigators is a windfall transfer of public wealth that should be considered only once public good outcomes can be guaranteed.”[3]

The recent NSW ICAC investigation into water management[4] recommended:

That the DPIE publicly records:

• its water strategy, objectives and priorities for the use and management of NSW’s water resources in a manner consistent with the mandatory duty in s 9 of the WMA

• the need to ensure the water management principles in s 5, and in particular those that relate to sharing, as set out in s 5(3) of the WMA, are all given effect. Section 9 of the WMA should also inform relevant key departmental records, including agency policies, guidelines and role descriptions, concerning the management of NSW water resources.

The report highlighted what environmental stakeholders, graziers and communities along the Darling-Baaka have long understood – that the NSW DPIE Water (the department) make decisions that favour irrigation at the expense of First Nations cultural values, stock and domestic and critical human need requirements and the environment. ICAC found this bias comes from “a misguided effort to redress a perceived imbalance caused by the Basin Plan’s prioritisation of the environment’s needs”.

Environmental stakeholders have not seen any shift in this mindset from the department in recent times. An accidentally released email chain recently bought to light that members of the department have ‘regular catch-ups’ with NSW Farmers Association, NSW Irrigators Council and the Murray Darling Association. This sounds like a working alliance. Healthy Rivers Dubbo has only been involved in one environmental stakeholder briefing by the floodplain harvesting team.

The bias towards irrigation that informs decisions made by the department, as detailed in the ICAC report, is still evident in the four proposed rule changes to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.

1.         Water Management (General) Amendment (Floodplain Harvesting Exemption) Regulation 2020

This regulation seeks to exempt floodplain harvesting works from the requirement under the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA) to hold a water access licence and water supply work approvals.

HRD strongly objects to this amendment and the exemptions it would provide.

No FPH works should be granted approvals exemption before the implementation of metering, the granting of licences and the rules for FPH are set in the relevant Water Sharing Plans.

Water that has been taken by FPH has been counted as environmental water for modelling purposes. All we know about the types of volumes that are taken is that they are significant, and that the environment has been denied these significant volumes for decades. HRD has serious concerns about the modelling and accounting of the long-term annual average flows to the environment in each NSW Northern Basin Valley. HRD believes the NSW Government has a responsibility to assess the volumes and impacts of decades of FPH on the rivers of the Northern NSW Murray Darling Basin.

2.         Water Management (General) Amendment (Exemption for Rainfall Run-off Collection) Regulation 2020

HRD strongly opposes the granting of exemption to licence of rainfall runoff.

This exemption grants an unfair privilege to irrigation over other land holders, and again is an example of the misguided endeavours of the department to adjust their decision making to favour the irrigation over other stakeholders and the environment, as per the ICAC report. 

The volume suggested as rainfall runoff exemption in the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan rules was larger than the volume that was designated to be returned to the environment. This exemption makes a mockery of the FPH licencing process.

Currently rainfall runoff is accounted for as Planned Environmental Water and modelled as remaining in the rivers. Not licencing this water is an erosion of Planned Environmental Water, which is against the objectives of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Rainfall runoff from irrigation fields that is contaminated and kept and used on farm that is above the 10% harvestable right must be licenced.

3.         Water Management (General) Amendment (Floodplain Harvesting Measurement) Regulation 2020

HRD is supportive of FPH works needing to be fitted with compliant metering, data logging and telemetry equipment and tamper-proof seals that needs to be fitted by a ‘duly qualified person’.

We object to a transition period for storages less than 1,000 megalitres or with infrequent use until 1st July 2022. All equipment must be installed and compliant by 30 June 2021.

We strongly object to a clause that allows the Minister to exempt an approval holder or a class of approval holders from the application of mandatory metering. If diversions cannot be measured and recorded, they should not have approval.

If metering equipment if faulty, no floodplain harvesting take should be allowed.

4.         Water Management (General) Amendment (Floodplain Harvesting) Regulation 2020

HRD is supportive of FPH take being licenced, however the debt owed to the environment from decades of unmeasured significant volumes of take must be assessed before licences are handed out.

HRD is concerned about the modelling data that is being used to calculate the Border Rivers draft Water Sharing Plan rules. We have no confidence in the 94 ‘cap’ figures being presented, as there is no clear line of site to the accredited cap reports to the presented figures.

By their nature floods usually occur when the environment and downstream users are desperate for water. This will coincide with on farm storages being empty, and if the department has its way, account balances many times the face value of the entitlement. FPH licences should not be issued until adequate downstream targets and rules that protect first flush events are in place.


As of December 2020 the Barwon-Darling Rivers have ceased to flow at Brewarrina and Bourke. Substantive volumes taken by FPH in Feb and March 2020 played a part in the rivers having little resilience in warm dry times.

Overland flows in the Northern NSW Murray Darling Basin from December 2020 to 30 June 2021 must be allowed to pass for the sake of the Ramsar wetlands, aquifers, First Nations communities and cultural values, struggling native fish populations, stock and domestic needs and critical human need.

The NSW Government must manage water extraction under the core requirements of the Water Management Act 2000. This includes the water sharing principles and associated duties imposed on decision makers to uphold them (ss. 5 and 9 of the Act).

This exemption amendment has been disallowed twice already by the NSW Legislative Council. In the light of the findings of the recent ICAC report, it is time for the department to assess the decision making processes that continually shows an unreasonable level of privilege and advantage to irrigation over other stakeholders.

For more information contact

Melissa Gray


Healthy Rivers Dubbo


[2] Final report Review of the Water Sharing Plan for the Barwon-Darling Unregulated and Alluvial Water Sources 2012 September 2019



Concern in Mudgee for the future of the Macquarie Marshes

The planned re-regulating dam on the Macquarie River at Gin Gin would be a death knoll for the internationally recognised Ramsar listed Macquarie Marshes.

Worried about the future of the famous bird breeding wetlands, some Mudgee locals had a chance to chat with Dugald Saunders MP about the fast tracked Gin Gin project.

Mr Saunders was happy to stop and hear concerns from locals about how the project would take water from the environment’s share and make it available for extraction.

Current estimates are that between 14,000 and 25,000 megalitres of water on average every year will be taken from the river upstream of the Ramsar wetlands as a result of the Gin Gin project.

This water is critical for the health of the Marshes.

Water for the environment working hard in the Wambuul Macquarie Valley.

Wise use of publicly owned water for the environment in the 2018-2019 water year helped vegetation in the core 10% of the struggling Macquarie Marshes hold on through the extreme drought of 2017-2019.

The rains in February 2020 came just in time to provide relief to the burnt North Marsh reed bed – however some fumbling in NSW agencies meant that the first flows weren’t protected for the environment, and significant volumes of water were allowed to be pumped and diverted from the river.

As a result, parts of the Ramsar listed wetlands turned green with noxious weeds, looking healthy to the untrained eye – but only flood water can heal a wetland. It wasn’t until late April 2020, when the growing days were shortening, that flows finally reached the northern part of the Marshes and the Lower Macquarie.

The start of the new water year as of 1st July 2020 saw some water that had been allocated to customers in 2016 finally turn up in the dam and be available, followed by some more flows. Time to get some important flows into the valley for native fish recovery and vegetation in the Macquarie Marshes.

The first part of the flow was designed to support Gugabul- Murray Cod on the nest.

And success!

Despite a hiccup with the cold water pollution control curtain in Burrendong which sent chilly 12 degree water down the river, NSW DPI – Fisheries detected Murray cod larvae in the Trangie area in mid-October. Based on larval ages, hatching of eggs began at the start of October.

The timing and duration of flows to the Macquarie Marshes is also critical for the recovery of this internationally significant wetland system. Plants in core wetland areas typically need 2–3 months of inundation over the post-frost months to allow them to flourish. This gives them a better chance to out-compete weeds such as lippia and noogoora burr.

With the landscape becoming drier, river operations getting tighter and the volumes of water available to fill water orders rapidly decreasing, environmental water managers are doing an excellent job supporting aquatic life in Wambuul.