A leading conservation body is taking extraordinary legal action over a NSW government water sharing plan, alleging the government and two individual ministers have breached the Water Management Act. 

Key points:

  • The NSW Nature Conservation Council launches “world first” legal action against the state government and two ministers
  • The council wants climate change factored into future water management
  • A grazier in the state’s far west hopes the case boosts public awareness of the water situation

The NSW Nature Conservation Council is alleging the government’s plan failed to adequately take into account the future impact of climate change on the state’s water systems and, in particular, on border rivers.

They are challenging the validity of the Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Border Rivers Regulated River Water Source Order 2021, also known as the Border Rivers Water Sharing Plan (WSP).

In NSW, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is built around 58 individual WSPs.

The council is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, which filed the case in the Land and Environment Court of NSW.

Council chief executive Chris Gambian said the case was an international first.

“It’s the world’s first legal case challenging a catchment-wide water sharing plan,” Mr Gambian said.

“We say that the NSW government, the Water Minister [Melinda Pavey] and the Environment Minister [Matt Kean] breached the Water Management Act when they made the water sharing plan for the border rivers.”

In a statement, a spokesperson from NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s office said the state government was “currently considering the matters raised by the NCC in the proceedings but can’t provide any specific comment as the matter is now before the court”. 

Mr Gambian of the NSW Nature Conservation Council said he did not think climate change was being properly factored into water-sharing calculations and the results could heavily impact the environment.

“The fish kills are one good example.

“The Menindee Lakes thankfully have water, but 12 months ago it didn’t … is another good example.”

Thousands of dead fish float on the surface of a river

The Darling River at Menindee has suffered several mass fish kills.(

Supplied: Rob Greggory

)

It is a sentiment shared by Kallara Station grazier Justin McClure who believes a lack of communication between the north and south of the state also contributed to environmental crises such as the Menindee fish kills.

“At the moment these water-sharing plans only talk to the downstream plans when they’re forced to,” Mr McClure said.

He believes better communication between all parties must be addressed, as must the issue of climate change.

“Connectivity is the key. If climate change isn’t taken into consideration and downstream communities aren’t taken into consideration then the process is broken,” he said.

A river flows under a wooden bridge, with grass in the foreground and clouds in a blue sky

The Darling River is currently in much better condition, flowing at Wilcannia. (

ABC Broken Hill: Bill Ormonde

)

Mr Gambian agreed.

Mr McClure says he hopes that, at the very least, the legal action will raise public awareness of the water issue, especially in the state’s cities where people are not adequately informed about some matters affecting other parts of the state. 

“Raising public awareness is the key to getting us on the same playing field and same level as other communities,” he said.

“We’ve all got a say in this argument, we’ve all got to live. All communities matter.”

Legal action over NSW water sharing plan cites government’s ‘climate change failure’
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