The New South Wales and Australian governments are committed to restoring the health of rivers and wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin. This is consistent with the National Water Initiative and the Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform. Both governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on shepherding water for the environment in July 2010.

The MoU defines water shepherding under Clause 13 (c) as the delivery of a calculated volume of water that was created by the non-activation/reduced extraction at a nominated licence location to a more downstream location, after consideration of losses, where it will be made available for extraction or use for the environment.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding on water shepherding (PDF 3.5 MB), both parties have committed to developing water shepherding arrangements that will:

  • optimise the use of all Commonwealth environmental water for the environment
  • provide the capacity to deliver water to high priority environmental assets
  • in the case of in-stream environmental watering, provide protection for environmental flows to pass through the system as far as transmission losses allow.

The MoU established two stages to developing water shepherding arrangements. Stage 1 will determine the preferred water shepherding approach and develop a detailed plan to implement that approach by mid 2012. Stage 2 of the project will implement water shepherding in NSW based on the timeframes, costs and information outlined in the detailed plan developed under Stage 1.

Developing water shepherding arrangements

The NSW water shepherding project involves investigation and agreement on an approach to give effect to water shepherding arrangements for the Barwon-Darling Rivers and intersecting streams. This includes the Warrego River and other streams east of the Barwon River, as shown in the map in schedule 1 of the MoU.

The water shepherding project is addressing the following issues:

  • water shepherding methodology
  • licensing
  • water delivery
  • trading
  • cap management
  • legal
  • accounting
  • modelling and monitoring
  • interstate water sharing arrangements
  • floods and over-bank flows.

Shepherding trials

Following flood flows in the far west in early 2009 and in 2010, NSW agreed to trial the shepherding of water available under the Australian Government's Toorale water licences in the unregulated Warrego and Darling river systems in the far north west of NSW to the Murray River. This involved the transfer of water through the Menindee Lakes storage into the Lower Darling River and then into the Murray River system – a distance of over 1,300 kilometres through three different river systems. Such transfers required analysis by the NSW Office of Water of the water available and the losses associated with the movement of the water to ensure the rights of the Commonwealth are balanced with the rights of other water users.

Progress of the water shepherding project

For further information on the progress of developing water shepherding arrangements, view or download the report, Shepherding water for the environment - Progress of the NSW water shepherding project, 2011 (PDF 207 MB).

Proposed arrangements for shepherding Commonwealth environmental water in NSW

Proposed arrangements for shepherding environmental water in NSW – Draft for consultation (PDF 497 KB) provides a general background and explanation of the proposed water shepherding arrangements in NSW, including details of specific licensing, access and dealing rules and conditions for shepherding. The report also identifies potential legislative amendments that may be required to enable implementation of shepherding of water for the environment.

The report Water shepherding option and issues analysis report - Water shepherding in NSW - Advice to the Water Shepherding Taskforce (PDF 3 MB) provides more detailed information on the proposed water shepherding arrangements in NSW. This report was prepared as advice from the Water Shepherding Working Group, as established under the MoU. The recommendations in this report form the basis of the proposed arrangements for shepherding environmental water in NSW provided above as a draft for consultation.

Community consultation

Consultation on the proposed arrangements for water shepherding environmental water in NSW occurred between 2 May and 14 July 2012. A number of briefing sessions were held with key stakeholders and 33 submissions were received.

All submissions received were considered by the water shepherding project team and technical working group and provided to the Shepherding Taskforce for consideration. A comprehensive summary of the issues and responses are provided in the report Proposed arrangements for shepherding Commonwealth Environmental Water in NSW - Outcomes of consultation (PDF 499 KB).

Matters raised during consultation have informed areas for further investigation. This work will be undertaken as part of stage 2 of the water shepherding project. The undertaking of stage 2 is subject to a further agreement between the NSW and Australian governments, which is yet to be negotiated. Should a further agreement be successfully negotiated it will be widely communicated, with a stage 2 project description to be made publicly available on this web page.

For more information on water shepherding contact us.