24 April 2023

Another Riverina irrigator slapped with serious fines over bore water use

| Chris Roe
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satellite image of farmland

Another irrigator has been fined after NRAR used satellite imagery and on-site inspections to monitor water use.

For the third time in two months, a Riverina farmer in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) has been fined for breaches of the Water Management Act.

After failing to act on a letter notifying them of an extraction limit on a bore on their property, the farmer must now pay a $56,000 fine and a whopping $70,000 in court costs.

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) had been conducting Operation Drawdown, focusing on bore water extraction limits in the fragile Lower Murrumbidgee, Lower Lachlan, Macquarie-Castlereagh, and Lower Namoi groundwater sources.

The project used desktop data comparisons combined with on-site inspections to determine whether extraction limits were being followed and it had been alleged that the offence took place around Leeton between July 2017 and June 2019.

READ ALSO Riverina irrigators cop heavy fines for breaching state water laws

The farmer pleaded guilty in the NSW Land and Environment Court to pumping 1,351.1ML of water over the licensed bore extraction limit.

Handing down judgment, Justice Rachel Pepper accepted that the breach was “inadvertent”, but said the owner of the mixed cropping operation had “undermined” the objectives of water regulation and “frustrated” the intent of the Water Management Act.

“The importance of adhering to the conditions of a water supply work approval and of ensuring the orderly management of a valuable and increasingly scarce resource cannot be understated,” Justice Pepper said.

It was found that the defendant had received a letter from WaterNSW notifying them of a change to the bore extraction limit but had not sought to fully understand and act on it.

“I therefore find that it was reasonably foreseeable that failing to monitor any conditions on the approvals would harm the environment and other water users,” Justice Pepper said.

NRAR director of investigation and enforcement Lisa Stockley welcomed the judgment.

“This protects the water source, the rights of other water users and any dependent ecosystems,” she said.

“It is absolutely crucial for these reasons that water users know the conditions of their water licence and follow them.

“We understand that the rules can be complex, but there is help available to clarify compliance obligations.”

Last month, a water user was fined for illegally pumping more than 7350ML and another for pumping just under 100ML.

READ ALSO Riverina farmers to continue fight for ‘water taken by stealth’

On the other side of the ledger, MIA farmers are concerned that while they are under increased scrutiny, the NSW Government is not being held accountable.

At a Griffith meeting this month, farmers vowed to continue the fight to reclaim water entitlements surrendered to the government in 2002, subject to regular reviews.

Despite being required to by law, the NSW Government has not conducted a single review into water management within the state. Nor has it provided any evidence of the benefits of this water to the environment.

Adding insult to injury, farmers incur water charges and delivery entitlement fees for water they no longer receive.

Acting on behalf of a collection of MIA farmers, water law expert Tim Horne is proposing a series of rule changes to give farmers water access in a way that benefits producers, consumers and the environment.

“Without timely access to our water, everything dies – including dreams and aspirations,” Mr Horne said.

He intends to present his ideas to the new Water Minister Rose Jackson in the coming weeks.

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