A review of water sharing plans covering the rivers which supply drinking water in Sydney, the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and South Coast has recommended the NSW Government review water transfer and environmental flow rules for Tallowa Dam and the Shoalhaven River.
The review of the Greater Metropolitan Water Sharing Plan by the NSW Natural Resources Commission (NRC) found the plans are "flawed" and "not appropriate to manage the region's water". Alongside 19 detailed recommendations, the report specially called for the NSW government to "review the transfer and release rules from the Shoalhaven River/Tallowa Dam to optimise environmental outcomes (including estuarine needs) and water security..." by July 1, 2027.
The recommendation follows significant community concern during the 2018/2019 period when billions of litres of water were transferred to Sydney to bolster metropolitan drinking water supplies, seeing environmental flows in the Shoalhaven River cut to zero for significant periods of time. This resulted in the Shoalhaven being on higher water restrictions than Sydney for some periods.
Independent MP and South Coast resident Justin Field challenged the transfers at the time and made a submission to the NRC process and has called for the review of the Shoalhaven/Tallowa process to be brought forward and for both major parties to commit to completing it within the next term of government.
"There is clearly something wrong with the water sharing rules in the Shoalhaven which saw our river starved of environmental flows while billions of litres were transferred to Sydney," Mr Field said.
"The loss of environmental flows has long-term impacts on water quality in the river and in particular on the oyster industry that relies on these fresh flushes in the Shoalhaven estuary.
"We don't want to have a similar situation in the next drought, so I'm calling on the government to bring forward this review and I would like to see both parties commit to completing it within the next term of government."
The detailed 155 page review, completed by the NSW Natural Resources Commission as part of its statutory obligations under the Water Management Act 2000, was completed in February but only published last week. A response to the report from NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey dated 26 March 2021 was just half a page long and made no commitments in regards to the 19 detailed recommendations in the review report.
"A half page response to detailed and complex recommendations, months after the fact, is simply not good enough," Mr Field said.
"The last decade has shown that water management in NSW is failing, yet the Government is effectively thumbing their nose at the advice of their own independent natural resource management experts.
"The Government must stop sticking its head in the sand and trying to sideline expert scientific advice and take seriously the challenges of water management, particularly in the face of a changing climate."
South Coast MP Shelley Hancock was contacted for comment.