To preserve water resources in river and groundwater systems for the long term it is critical to balance the competing needs of the environment and water users. Water sharing plans establish rules for sharing water between the environmental needs of the river or aquifer and water users, and also between different types of water use such as town supply, rural domestic supply, stock watering, industry and irrigation.
Water sharing plans are being progressively developed for rivers and groundwater systems across New South Wales following the introduction of the Water Management Act 2000. These plans protect the health of our rivers and groundwater while also providing water users with perpetual access licences, equitable conditions, and increased opportunities to trade water through separation of land and water.
Macro water sharing plans
Since 2007, water sharing plans for unregulated rivers (being those typically dependent on rainfall and natural river flows rather than water released from dams) and groundwater systems have been completed using a 'macro' or broader scale river catchment or aquifer system approach. By the end of 2010, around 90 per cent of the water extracted in NSW was covered by the Water Management Act 2000.
The macro planning process is designed to develop water sharing plans covering most of the remaining water sources across NSW. Each macro plan covers a large river basin rather than a single sub-catchment, or in the case of a groundwater system, covers a particular type of aquifer (e.g. fractured rock) within the river basin. These macro plans generally apply to catchments or aquifers where there is less intensive water use compared with the areas that were covered by plans in 2004.
The water sharing planning cycle
Water sharing planning follows a cyclic pattern as demonstrated below.