Water regulator uncovers litany of breaches on Coffs farms
NEARLY all of the Coffs Harbour properties inspected recently by the state's independent water regulator were found to be non-compliant with important water laws.
The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) detected one dam that was 12 times greater than the allowable size.
The disappointing results are from Phase 2 of NRAR's Coffs Harbour Intensive Horticulture compliance campaign.
NRAR found that 18 of the 21 properties inspected were allegedly non-compliant with important water laws.
In response NRAR has issued:
• 14 penalty notices,
• a stop work order to immediately cease use of unauthorised works, and
• two legal directions to reduce the capacity of dams.
All water users found to be undertaking allegedly non-compliant practices were required to take action to bring them into compliance.
Sixteen operations had oversized dams in the order of 1.5 to 12 times greater than the allowable size.
Officers also found unauthorised pumps on a small watercourse.
Greg Abood, NRAR's Director Water Regulation (East), said sites selected for inspection represented a diverse range of operations, identified using satellite imagery, local knowledge and site history.
"The levels of noncompliance from our latest proactive work in Coffs Harbour show that water users in the industry need to do more work," Mr Abood said.
"Horticulture farmers need to take responsibility for their noncompliance and be more proactive in complying with the law."
Mr Abood said industry groups have responded positively to NRAR's findings and are playing an active role in informing members of these findings.
"We are using their reach and membership networks to engage with as many water users as possible before we start the next phase of the campaign," he said.
"After Phase 1, we engaged directly with industry groups and water users, urging them to be more active about their compliance responsibilities. We again urge water users to know their level of compliance and take steps now to comply before we inspect. Now is the best time to act while our catchment soils are wet."
Mr Abood stressed the importance of horticulture operators having dams within the maximum harvestable right capacity for their properties. If a dam is oversized or a water work is not legitimate, the pathway to compliance includes licensing the dam or the work, or modifying it so it fits within the legal limits and the water laws.
Coffs Harbour City Councillor Dr Sally Townley has long pushed for greater regulation of the industry.
"Non-compliance has been a hallmark of this industry and finally we are seeing some attempt at control by the State Government," Cr Townley said.
Next phase of compliance campaign
Phase 3 of NRAR's Coffs Harbour Intensive Horticulture compliance campaign will begin later this year.
In the meantime, NRAR is now working with relevant industry groups to reach out to their membership with important messages and information about compliance, using industry newsletters and video and web-based conferencing. NRAR will then return to test the level of compliance after the education campaign.
"Unlawful water take is unfair to your fellow water users in the industry who actively comply with the law," Mr Abood said.
"Complying with water take laws builds confidence levels in all water users, the industry and the community. We will continue our proactive approach, using different regulatory tools along the way. With the help of the industry we will work to create and promote that level playing field."
NRAR officers are continuing their activities of monitoring potentially unlawful water take during the COVID-19 response period, while observing all NSW Health recommendations to ensure the safety of water users, the community and NRAR staff.
NRAR's investigators and compliance officers travel all over the state's 58 water sharing plan areas, inspecting properties and assessing compliance with water users' licences and the Water Management Act 2000.
To make a confidential report on suspected water misuse, contact the NRAR Hotline on 1800 633 362 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about NRAR visit industry.nsw.gov.au/nrar