How water for the environment is managed in NSW

Adaptive management, community participation, collaboration with partners and responsible trading are some of the tools used to manage water for the environment.

The water in our rivers and dams is shared among many different users. Some water is set aside for towns, some for farms. And a share of the water in our rivers is managed for the health of the river itself.

Communities, government and industry groups all have a role in managing river health. These groups work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for native plants, fish, birds, animals and people alike.

What is the role of Office of Environment and Heritage?

In NSW, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) manages water set aside for the environment through water sharing rules and water licences. OEH also delivers water held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office for environmental management.

OEH has been working with local communities over many years to deliver water in five regulated river catchments - the Gwydir, Macquarie, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray-Lower Darling.

Does the community have a say?

Yes. In each of these catchments, an Environmental Water Advisory Group (or EWAG) has been established to inform the decision-making process.

Stakeholders include:

  • community representatives
  • recreational fishers
  • irrigation and farming groups
  • Aboriginal organisations
  • floodplain graziers
  • environment representatives
  • scientists
  • partner agencies.

These groups help decide which sites to target for watering as well as the best timing to maximise outcomes for rivers and wetlands and the plants and animals that depend on them. They also help to develop strategies for various weather scenarios and provide advice on how to minimise disruption to farmers and communities.

How does OEH decide which sites to water?

OEH uses the best available science, management experience and local knowledge to identify priority watering sites. Water managers aim to provide the right amount of water where and when it is needed in order to support the health and function of river and wetland habitats for the benefit of plants, animals and people.

OEH prepares an Annual Environmental Water Plan for each valley. Advisory groups inform the development of these plans which include a list of river and wetland sites that may be targeted under a range of climate and other scenarios.

Depending on seasonal conditions, watering events and their objectives may change. Plans must be flexible to accommodate these variations.

Who else is involved?

Commonwealth Environmental Water Office – CEWO holds the largest portfolio of water for the environment on behalf of the Australian Government. CEWO contributes to environmental watering at sites across the whole Murray-Darling Basin, seeking basin wide outcomes. It also has a monitoring role.

Murray Darling Basin Authority – The MDBA assists with environmental watering at a whole-of-basin scale and is responsible for the development of a long term strategy for environmental water across the basin.

DoI Water – determines the volume of water available for allocation to towns, water users and the environment each year. DoI Water determines the water sharing rules between users, and policies for water trading. DoI Water also has a role in monitoring ecosystem health.

WaterNSW – is a business unit of the NSW Government responsible for the operation and maintenance of dams and weirs to enhance water supply and security.