Inspector-General still unable to assess key Basin State’s compliance

Inspector-General still unable to assess key Basin State’s compliance

For the second year running, the Inspector–General of Water Compliance, the Honourable Troy Grant, has not been able to assess Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) resource units in New South Wales. Sustainable Diversion Limits and compliance with the limits are essential to the implementation and operation of the Basin Plan. Under the Commonwealth Water Act, SDLs provide for the establishment and enforcement of environmentally sustainable limits on the volume of water that may be taken from the Basin. In effect, SDLs limit the amount of water that can be taken from rivers and aquifers for towns, industry, and farmers.

For states to have their SDLs assessed, they must first have a water resource plan in place. All Basin States have operational water resource plans for the 2021-2022 year, except for New South Wales.

“It has been well over 12 months now since I first called out the failure of the New South Wales Government in relation to water resource plans. Without operational water resource plans, I cannot assess SDL compliance. The evidence is now in that during 2021-22, New South Wales continued to fail to deliver its obligations and commitments to the Basin Plan,” said Mr Grant.

It is acknowledged that New South Wales have seven groundwater water resource plans accredited of which five were accredited during the 2022-2023 year and two during the 2023-2024 year, and therefore not included in the 2021-2022 SDL compliance assessment.

“Disappointingly, the 2021-22 SDL Compliance Statement does not include New South Wales. The twenty water resource plans in New South Wales were not accredited or operating in the 2021-22 water accounting year – none… zero… zilch.”

Without a water resource plan, it is not correct to say that New South Wales is ‘compliant,” nor is it correct to say that New South Wales is ‘non-compliant.’ They are simply not yet subject to the Basin Plan SDL compliance assessment. This situation in New South Wales is deeply concerning, particularly as there are an increasing number of areas on the interim SDL accounts pointing to an SDL excess, specifically, the Barwon-Darling watercourse by 40% and Gwydir surface water by 21% and the Murrumbidgee is trending toward the SDL compliance threshold at 18% SDL exceedance. However, there are no legal ramifications without a water resource plan.

The Inspector-General remains optimistic that progress is now being made to re-write NSW water resource plans to a standard that will make them accreditable by the Commonwealth Water Minister.

“It has been more than two years now since my role was formally established, and New South Wales is well behind the eight-ball on progress. There is a lot of work to be done to catch up, and I look forward to seeing how New South Wales progresses this integral part of Basin Plan implementation.

In good news though, the Inspector-General is again happy to see that all other Basin States (Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT) are compliant with their Sustainable Diversion Limits, with all 55 SDL resource units achieving compliance. The full SDL Compliance Statement can be found on the Reviews and Reports section of the IGWC’s website.

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