Following submission of NSW water resource plans, the MDBA undertook their initial assessment of the WRPs between May 2020 and August 2021.
All twenty NSW WRPs were withdrawn following receipt of formal advice from the MDBA indicating the plans did not meet all accreditation requirements. The main reasons the plans did not meet the accreditation requirements were:
- Issues around planned environmental water
- Aboriginal consultation
- Internal and other minor referencing issue
Withdrawal and resubmission of WRPs, once formal advice from the MDBA is received, is a normal process followed by all states with their Basin Plan commitments and the accreditation process.
NSW has worked with the MDBA to address the issues raised in the formal advice. The Border Rivers Alluvium plan was resubmitted in February 2022 and the Lachlan surface water plan was resubmitted in March 2022. NSW further resubmitted the remaining 18 water resource plans for accreditation assessment.
In May 2023, seven NSW surface water resource plans were withdrawn. Three of these have now been resubmitted with a further two anticipated by the end of 2023.
It is important to note that the ‘assist’ phase can involve a number of cycles of feedback and response, and as flagged earlier plans may be submitted but withdrawn for various reasons.
Once NSW water resource plans are all accredited the plans will move to an amendment phase.
Water sharing plans
Water Sharing Plans (WSPs) are one component of the WRPs. They are the key legal document for NSW water management, setting out water sharing arrangements between water users, including the environment. They are also a key mechanism to carry out the requirements of the WRPs.
State based components of the WRPs must be in place and commence before the WRP is accredited by the Commonwealth. This means that the NSW WSPs must commence before the NSW WRPs are accredited.
On 1 July 2020, NSW commenced eleven replacement groundwater sharing plans and twelve amended unregulated river water sharing plans. The unregulated river plans are those which were submitted as part of the surface water WRPs. The groundwater replacement plans have been slightly updated, which mean NSW must resubmit these plans to the MDBA.
Additional minor amendments have been made to some unregulated and groundwater sharing plans in the interim prior to the resubmission of the water resource plans. These amendments are included in the water sharing plans included in the resubmitted plans.
NSW is also responsible for nine regulated river WSPs and their associated WRPs. Amendment to these water sharing plans have now been progressed for approval under State legislation. These amendments must be commenced prior the WRPs being accredited to avoid any inconsistencies in compliance of the water resource plans.
Including floodplain management provisions in northern basin plans
As part of the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy, the department is working through a process to issue floodplain harvesting licences. Rules for these licences will be included in the relevant water sharing plans for the NSW Border Rivers, Gwydir, Namoi, Macquarie and Barwon Darling.
Broadly, the take of water from floodplain harvesting is already included in the relevant WSPs for the northern NSW basin. The long-term average annual extraction limits set in these WSPs include water taken through floodplain harvesting activities in the plan area.
Water sharing plans for these areas will also be amended to include more specific rules that will apply to floodplain harvesting access licences once they are issued. We will be undertaking WSP amendments to implement the floodplain harvesting rules and accounting measures. Amendments have been progressed for the NSW Border Rivers, Gwydir and Macquarie. Work is progressing in the Barwon Darling and Namoi. Individual valley information can be found at water sharing plan rules for floodplain harvesting.
We are working with the MDBA on the best way to update the affected WRPs, as these have been submitted for accreditation. Depending on the timing, where the MDBA finds a WRP needs changes to be made, the floodplain harvesting amendments could be included as part of the re-submitted plan. Alternatively, the plan could be amended after it is accredited.