Water Law Reform in NSW – 1995 to 1999
This is the second of two articles by this author on water law reform in NSW. It considers important reform measures taken in the period from 1995 to late 1999. These measures include the trial of an environmental flows package; privitisation of irrigation schemes; revision of the scheme of control over floodplain work; introduction of a new harvestable right; introduction of volumetric controls over unregulated river systems; and the change in conditions of groundwater licences and floodplain work. In addition, the article explores legal issues arising from the first inter-sectoral transfer of water rights in NSW. Most of the measures are considered within the context of the Lachlan catchment. The author found that while sustainable management was adopted as an objective in 1986, it was only in 1995 that the concept was implemented. The primary factors instrumental in providing viable options for sustainable management were: a measure of cooperation between inter-agency groups; an acceptance (at least at a policy level) of an environmental ethos and principles for sustainable management; the gathering of scientific data; and the trial and acceptance of different management mechanisms. As a result, NSW has produced a sophisticated package for environmental flows. However, groundwater in the Lachlan exemplifies problems with management. In a decade, water managers have had to substantially revise the estimate of sustainable yield, completely reject conjunctive licences as a management solution, and contend with clawback from over-allocation because management was based on wrong assumptions. The major conclusions from this study are: (1) water is a critical resource and humans have limited knowledge of the resource; (2) the introduction of water markets to NSW took place without the prerequisite steps of specifying the item of trade and allowing for environmental allocations; (3) the environmental flows package introduced after two water related crises set benchmarks for other States; (4) uncertainty about the resource requires it be managed adaptively; and (5) the River Management Committee is a step closer to the goal of an institutional model to determine river health.
Environmental and Planning Law Journal