Water purchases are undertaken to provide additional water for the environment and to secure a sustainable future for irrigated agriculture.
Water purchases have been carried out under several programs including RiverBank, The Living Murray, and Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Under the $105 million RiverBank project, water is bought from licence holders and provided to the environment – over 80,000 megalitres of water have been purchased in the Macquarie, Gwydir, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee valleys.
The Commonwealth has committed $3.1 billion for the direct purchase of water licences for the environment under the Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin program.
Intergovernmental agreement on environmental water
The NSW and Commonwealth Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding on environmental water (PDF 768 KB) on 23 September 2009. The MoU sets 890 gigalitres of general security entitlement as the total amount of water the Commonwealth can purchase for the environment from NSW by 2013. As a result, NSW has lifted a temporary embargo on environmental licence purchases.
This limit on purchasing water recognises the Victorian and Commonwealth agreement of 2008. This means the Commonwealth can acquire 460 gigalitres from Victoria over the five years from 2008-09.
The NSW limit is relative to the Victorian limit given that:
- NSW on average takes a higher proportion of water from the Murray-Darling Basin than Victoria
- the Victorian entitlement is predominantly high security while the NSW limit is based on general security entitlement.
The Toorale purchase and water shepherding
Water shepherding involves transfers that require complex analysis by the Office of Water. The Office calculates the water available and the losses associated with the movement of the water to ensure the rights of other water users are not affected.
The NSW and Commonwealth Governments bought Toorale Station, on the junction of the Warrego and Darling rivers in north-west NSW in September 2008. The purchase included the property's licensed water entitlements.
Following the purchase of Toorale Station, the Commonwealth sought to have the water available transferred, or shepherded, from the Warrego River down the Barwon-Darling River, through Menindee Lakes and into the Murray River system for environmental watering. This is a distance of over 1,300 kilometres.
Shepherding took place following the heavy rains of February 2009 in north-west NSW and south-west Queensland While such transfers between the hydrologically connected and regulated Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lower Darling River systems are possible through NSW water trading rules, the Commonwealth sought to extend this concept beyond the current rules in NSW water sharing plans.
The shepherding event resulted in about 8,000 megalitres being made available to the Commonwealth. The water was used for six environmental sites along the Murray River in May and June 2009.
In July 2010, the NSW Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding on water shepherding (PDF 3.5 MB) with the Commonwealth. The MoU established a two stage approach to develop water shepherding arrangements. Stage 1 will determine the preferred water shepherding approach and develop a detailed implementation plan. Stage 2 will put into action water shepherding in NSW based on the timeframes, costs and information outlined in the implementation plan.
Toorale water shepherding trials
The Office of Water has prepared two reports outlining the first shepherding trial and the water accounting procedures:
- Proposal to enable environmental water entitlements acquired in the Darling River at Toorale Station to be diverted downstream of the Menindee Lakes (project proposal) (PDF 59 KB)
- Proposal to enable environmental water entitlements acquired in the Darling River at Toorale Station to be diverted downstream of the Menindee lakes (Accounting for water reaching the Murray and available for use for the environment) (PDF 42 KB)
Following a second trial event in 2010, the NSW Office of Water developed Guiding principles for water shepherding at Toorale (PDF 447 KB). An Independent assessment of water shepherding methodologies (PDF 28 KB) was also undertaken.
In August 2010, the third Toorale water shepherding trial commenced as flows in the Darling River at Louth reached the 1,130 megalitres per day commence-to-pump condition for the Toorale Darling River licence. In consultation with the NSW Office of Water, and consistent with the Memorandum of Understanding on water shepherding (PDF 3.5 MB), the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (through the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) requested that all water available to the Toorale Darling River licence account be shepherded along the Barwon-Darling system to the Menindee Lakes. The shepherded water was released as environmental flows into the Great Darling Anabranch from Lake Cawndilla in the Menindee Lakes scheme in September 2010.
The shepherding event resulted in approximately six gigalitres of water being released into the Great Anabranch which could be attributed to water shepherded from Toorale. For more information read the Accounting for the third Toorale water shepherding trial: August September 2010 (PDF 354 KB).