Assessing water impacts of major developments in NSW
The Department of Primary Industries – Water (DPI Water) plays a crucial role in the assessment, management and review of major developments in NSW. Under the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, DPI Water provides advice to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DP&E) and major project proponents to ensure that development is sustainable and consistent with the broader management principles of the State's water resources and their dependent ecosystems for the benefit of both present and future generations. DPI Water's Strategic Stakeholder Liaison Unit coordinates the provision of this advice.
In reviewing and preparing comment on major development proposals, DPI Water takes into account the requirements of the Water Management Act 2000 (WM Act), Water Act 1912 (W Act) and related regulations/instruments (e.g. Water Sharing Plans) as well as relevant policies and guidelines.
Some of the key policies and guidelines used by DPI Water in assessing major developments include:
- NSW Aquifer Interference Policy (2012) – Outlines the process through which the DPI Water assesses projects to determine any potential impacts on aquifers resulting from aquifer interference activities. It clarifies the requirements for obtaining water licences for aquifer interference activities in NSW and requires that operators properly address any risks to groundwater resources and undertake adequate monitoring.
- NSW Guidelines for controlled activities on waterfront land (2012) – These guidelines relate to the design and construction of works within a watercourse or on waterfront land. The guidelines include separate documents for in-stream works, laying pipes and cables in watercourses, outlet structures, riparian corridors, Vegetation Management Plans and watercourse crossings.
- Risk Assessment Guidelines for Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (2012)
- Groundwater Monitoring and Modelling Plans - Information for prospective mining and petroleum exploration activities (2014) (PDF, 97kb)
- Australian Groundwater Modelling Guidelines (2012) (PDF, 4.6mb)
The following table summarises what DPI Water does at each stage of the major project planning process and the information required from the proponent at each of these stages.Major development proponents should contact the Strategic Stakeholder Liaison Unit within DPI Water via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to seek comment, review, or undertake consultation (PDF, 540kb).
|Planning Stage||Description||What DPI Water does||What is required from proponents|
|NSW Mining & Petroleum Gateway||
The Mining and Petroleum Gateway process adds an upfront step to the assessment of large mining and CSG production projects located on Strategic Agricultural Land in NSW. |
A Gateway Certificate is required to be issued by the Mining and Petroleum Gateway Panel (the Panel) prior to a proponent lodging a development application.
Each Gateway application must be referred to the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) and the NSW Minister for Primary Industries (the Minister) by the Panel, to obtain advice on the water impacts of the proposal.
DPI Water provides important technical advice on the potential water impacts of a particular proposal for the Minister's consideration. |
The Minister must also consider the IESC's response in providing advice to the Panel
The proponent is required to undertake a preliminary assessment of the proposal against a standard set of targeted scientific criteria, developed by the NSW Mining and
Petroleum Gateway Panel,
relating to agricultural and water impacts. |
Assess impacts on highly productive groundwater in accordance with the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy (2012).
|Planning Focus Meeting (PFM)||For more complex projects, DP&E may convene a PFM with relevant government agencies and local councils prior to or immediately following the lodgement of an application for SEARs by a proponent.||
Assessing officer/s may attend PFMs to gain an initial understanding of the project and potential water-related issues. |
May also facilitate one-on-one discussions with the proponent to identify potential issues early on and discuss information requirements moving forward.
|Ensure a clear outline of the proposal is provided, including maps, water courses etc.|
Secretary's Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) |
(previously known as DGRS or DGEARS)
|The proponent lodges a development application with DP&E and seeks the Environmental Assessment (EA) requirements. These requirements outline what needs to be included/addressed in the project EIS.||
Reviews the proponent's preliminary project report and provides advice to DP&E as to what should be included in the SEARs. |
Typically recommends a standard list of SEARs (based on the type of project) and additional project specific SEARs if necessary
Ensure a clear outline of the proposal is provided, including maps, water courses etc. |
Proponents should refer to the list of common/standard SEARs recommended to DP&E by DPI Water for:
|Test of Adequacy (ToA)||The proponent circulates the draft EIS for relevant agencies to review and decide if it meets the Secretary's EA requirements issued by DP&E.||
Undertakes a basic adequacy check against the SEARs issued by DP&E, to see if the information requested has been addressed/included in the draft EIS. |
Identify additional water-related issues that need to be addressed before the final EIS is submitted.
A full merit assessment is not undertaken at this stage
Provide a clearly set-out draft EIS with a contents table at the front that identifies where information for particular SEARs is located within the report. |
Identify any SEARs that have not been addressed in the EIS upfront and give reasoning as to why
|Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)||The proponent submits their final EIS to DP&E. It is placed online for public exhibition for a minimum of 30 days. Both Government agencies and the public have the opportunity to comment on the EIS during this time.||Undertakes a full merit assessment of the EIS against the SEARs. This includes seeking advice from technical experts within the organisation (e.g. groundwater and/or surface water modelling and management).||
Provide a clearly set-out final EIS that includes an assessment of any additional water-related issues identified at the ToA stage. |
Identify any SEARs that have not been addressed in the EIS upfront and give reasoning as to why.
May be required to provide additional information if necessary to clarify discrepancies or provide greater detail.
|Response To Submissions (RTS)||The proponent responds to submissions received regarding the proposal.||Provides advice to DP&E as to whether the proponent's response adequately addresses concerns raised at the EIS stage.||
The RTS report should provide a clear response to each issue raised, preferably in a table format, or with a separate section for each agency. |
Identify any concerns that have not been addressed in the RTS and provide reasoning as to why.
|Draft Conditions of Approval (CoAs)||DP&E circulates draft conditions of approval for agencies and the proponent to comment on.||Provides recommendations to DP&E regarding the adequacy of the draft conditions.|
The modification of a previously approved major project. |
Modifications vary greatly in size and potential impacts on water resources.
The assessment of large modifications may follow a similar process to that of a new project.
|Provides advice to DP&E at each stage it is consulted (SEARs, EIS, CoAs).||
Provide clearly set-out supporting documentation. |
Contact DPI Water in advance regarding any modifications that are likely to have a significant impact on water resources. This will help to minimise potential delays in assessment.
DP&E makes a final determination on whether the project can go ahead. |
A notice of determination is issued by DP&E and made publicly available online.
|A record of the final determination, including the conditions of approval is kept for future reference.|
Anything else post-approval that requires review or ongoing reporting. |
May include subsidence management plans, water management plans, water monitoring and modelling plans (WMMPs), mining operations plans, rehabilitation management plans, etc.
Plays an ongoing role in auditing and reporting through the conditions of a development consent/approval. |
Provides advice to proponents in the development and review of Water Management Plans and WMMPs.
DPI Water staff will endeavour to complete their review as soon as possible to ensure the efficient use of resources and to prevent holding up a project unnecessarily
|May involve more in-depth discussions with DPI Water's technical experts.|
DPI Water also recommends that proponents refer to the Aquifer Interference Policy Assessment Framework when preparing an EIS for a major project.
Mining and Petroleum Exploration
DPI Water provides advice to the NSW Division of Resources and Energy (DRE), part of the NSW Department of Industry, and the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) in the assessment of applications to undertake mining and petroleum exploration in NSW. This includes providing advice on Review of Environmental Factors reports (REFs), Water Modelling and Monitoring Plans (WMMPs) and Produced Water Management Plans (PWMPs). Both WMMPs and PWMPs must be developed and updated in consultation with DPI Water. As a result, DPI Water plays an important ongoing role in the on site management and monitoring of water resources for mining and petroleum exploration projects.
Where an activity is defined as non-State Significant Development under the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979, an REF allows the assessing agency to determine whether or not the activity requires a higher level of assessment in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). If an EIS is not required, the assessing agency will recommend either the approval or rejection of the REF submitted by the proponent.
The EPBC Act 'Water Trigger'
Australia's national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, was amended in June 2013 to provide that water resources are a matter of national environmental significance in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mining development. This amendment is known as the water trigger.
The water trigger allows the impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources to be comprehensively assessed at a national level.
Under the water trigger, any coal seam gas or large coal mining developments that are expected to have a significant impact on water resources must be referred to the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) for advice. As part of their assessment, the IESC may seek advice from DPI Water. Based on the IESC's advice, the Minister can set appropriate conditions as part of the project approval to ensure that any significant impacts on a water resource are acceptable.
The rules surrounding the referral of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments to the IESC by the NSW Government are prescribed under an agreement between the NSW and Commonwealth governments (the 'National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development – NSW Referral Protocol'.
Strategic Stakeholder Liaison Unit (DPI Water)
Ph: 1800 353 104