Irrigators want the government to 'get on with it', but flood plain harvesting concerns persist
A parliamentary committee looking into flood plain harvesting in New South Wales is calling for a six-month delay to the government's plan to licence the sector.
Irrigators, however, are urging the government to "just get on with it".
Opponents to the flood plain harvesting regulations are concerned about how water take will be measured, as well as the impacts of the practice on communities and the environment downstream.
They question whether extraction will be sustainable and within the limits of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
They also claim that licensing the sector will expose the government to compensation claims if the water can't be delivered in the future.
Select Committee on Flood Plain Harvesting chair Cate Feahrmann said there was fundamental disagreement from stakeholders over flood plain harvesting policy, including questions over its legality, impacts, and the determination of volumes and licence design.
"There are too many inadequacies and uncertainties around flood plain harvesting at this point in time," she said.
"Caution and improvement is required before a licensing framework is embedded."
The committee found that the impact on downstream flows and river health was significant and said harvesting from the flood plains had grown notably over the years.
Northern irrigation industry bodies want the government to move forward and put the reforms in place.
Namoi Water executive officer Mick Coffey said a lot of money had already been spent on gathering information and measuring the water take.
"The idea of any more proposed delays or taxpayer money being spent to basically duplicate what's already been looked at is pretty disappointing," he said.
Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association executive officer Zara Lowien was frustrated by what she described as "misinformation" in the committee's report.
"I think overarching statements that [floodplain harvesting] has a huge impact on downstream flows is a little bit exaggerated," she said.
"You're looking at the flooding right here in the north at the moment and we have a thousand gigalitres or more on its way to Menindee — and we've flood plain harvested."
The Nature Conservation Council's Mel Gray said she was concerned about the government's figures on how much water was extracted and how that would fit into the cap imposed by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
"[Water Minister Melinda Pavey] has to be transparent about any increase in the limits and not just add the historic flood plain harvesting volumes to the existing limits, as they are proposing," she said.
"That is just far too much water to take out of the system and that is where you will get devastating events like fish kills."
Independent consultant Mayanne Slattery has been working for a group representing southern irrigators and environmentalists.
She challenged the government's method for calculating the cap and supported the committee's call for an independent committee to look at that and other issues.
"They made up a new concept called a 'cap scenario' and said, 'We've reduced take to this cap scenario' … which is just a made up number, and tried to pass that off as cap and it's a much, much higher number."
Ms Pavey said she would send all the information on water extraction to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for assessment as to whether it fits within the cap.
"If it doesn't then we will look at it again," she said.
While new regulations to licence flood plain harvesting have been very divisive in NSW, Ms Pavey is hoping to collaborate more.
"I think we can work together and use the science and work together to get the best outcome," she said.
There are reports, however, that the Minister will announce new flood plain harvesting regulations in a few days, which would not leave much time for consultation on the just-released recommendations of the parliamentary committee.
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