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The recent deluge forced the closure of many roads throughout the Clarence Valley as water levels continued rising. Image: Emma Pritchard.

Voices for the Earth

Harvestable Water Rights

A lot of television airtime has recently been devoted to “harvestable rights”.

That’s the amount of run-off water that landowners are allowed to capture in dams. For years farmers, particularly irrigators, have been pressuring governments to allow them to take more of this free life-giving resource. As a result, the NSW government is undertaking a review, and vested interests are out in force, lobbying for more.

Past regulatory blunders are not helping. For example, landowners in the state’s west are allowed to catch all the water that falls on their land, and with floodplain harvesting of water now allowed, they can take even more. So, farmers on the coast, who are only allowed to capture 10%, are arguing to be allowed to do likewise.

Allowing entrepreneurs to purchase and trade water rights, some of whom are not even water users, has exacerbated the problems, adding costs to coastal landowners who may need to buy additional water during droughts.

Some outrageous suggestions are being made to support their case, including pointing out that firefighters had trouble finding water during last year’s bushfire emergency, and suggesting more dams would solve that problem.

The reason those landowners want more dams is to save them having to buy water during drought, but inferring that more dams would allow them to provide water for firefighting is hard to swallow. However, as ludicrous as this suggestion is, there are some in the bureaucracy, including the Minister it seems, that have been persuaded that this would be the case.

Recent compliance checks found close to 90% of irrigators on the coast are already ‘stealing’ water, and it stands to reason that the more water that is captured on-farm, the less there will be flowing down our rivers. That is already happening across inland NSW, and we don’t want it happening on the coast as well.

Water is essential for life on earth and should never be commercialised, owned, or controlled by a small minority who just happen to own the land it falls on.

John Edwards

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