The NSW water watchdog will soon take action against large-scale irrigators not playing by the rules, after finding 45 per cent of pumps over 500mm are still not fitted with accurate meters.

Key points:

  • New water laws introduced last December made it mandatory for water users with surface pumps of 500mm and over to have tamper-proof meters installed
  • However the NSW’s water regulator says 45 per cent of big irrigators have failed to comply
  • Irrigators say it is just 10 or 12 irrigators not complying and that supply issues will continue to plague the ongoing rollout

A new water law introduced on December 1 last year made it mandatory for water users in NSW with surface pumps of 500mm and above to have tamper-proof meters installed and validated by a certified professional.

But the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has found that while 55 per cent of major irrigators’ pumps 500mm and above were now fully compliant or working towards it, the remainder had still not been fitted with accurate meters.

The NRAR’s chief regulatory officer Grant Barnes has warned the owners of these pumps would now be subject to enforcement action.

A man stands next to a water pump.

Chief regulatory officer Grant Barnes says tougher penalties will be introduced.(

ABC Rural: Amelia Bernasconi


Irrigators concede ‘it’s not good enough’

Claire Miller from the NSW Irrigators Council conceded that 45 per cent was a “pretty confronting statistic”.

A headshot of a woman with books in the background

Claire Miller, of the NSW Irrigators Council, says supply issues are slowing down the rollout.(



She said anyone not doing the right thing should have the book thrown at them but noted the statistics showed it was a small group of people flouting the rules. 

“It is 10 or 12 people who’ve sat on their hands and done nothing and NRAR should definitely throw the book at them.”

Green groups call for bigger fines

Independent NSW MP Justin Field said it was “unfathomable” that after all the public concern about the issue that almost half of the biggest water users were still “breaking the rules” when it came to metering water take.

“The pumps in question here are gigantic, half a metre diameter straws that have the capacity to suck the lifeblood out of our rivers,” he said.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann also expressed her concern.

She said some irrigators were waiting as long as they could before installing compliant meters, to avoid having to account and pay for every drop they were taking.

No more excuses

Irrigators had been claiming the slow progress was due to a lack of supply of the correct equipment and a shortage of certified installers who could verify that the requirements had been met.

But the NRAR’s Grant Barnes dismissed that excuse. 

“Most water users that we have spoken to have told us that access to accurate meters or independent certifiers is not a constraint to compliance.” 

However he did concede that connectivity issues were presenting problems for irrigators. 

He said he wasn’t taking enforcement action on irrigators who were able to provide evidence that they had been working on the issue.

Another deadline looming

Mr Barnes said the next deadline facing irrigators in the northern inland region of the state was less than five months away.

That is for all works, including pumps above 100mm and bores above 200mm in the Macquarie, Gwydir, Namoi, Border Rivers and Barwon-Darling regions to have meters installed.

Next deadline cannot be met

Claire Miller said irrigators faced an uphill battle to meet that deadline because of a shortage of suitable meters and a lack of installers. 

“The next tranche is 8,000 works by the first of December this year and Water NSW has just put in an order for 180 meters so that has swamped the manufacturing market,” Ms Miller said.

“There is going to be a big supply bottleneck.”

She said there were only about 100 qualified people who could install and certify the meters.

45 per cent of the state’s biggest irrigators have failed to install meters on their pumps
Source 1


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