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Primary Industries and Water – Water Allocations

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Water, River Health, Primary Industries

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, there has recently been a new project announced for NRET, which is looking at updating the models for catchment yields in Tasmania, which is fantastic news. The outline for the project states:

Climate change projections currently used in catchment yield modellings in Tasmania, while still very useful, are dated and may not fully inform us of the future risks to our water resources.

Previously, key stakeholders including Tas Irrigation, have stated they believe we are currently tracking to the dryer scenario under climate futures, and the IPCC projections under our existing model and NRET have consistently stated that many Tasmanian rivers are fully allocated in terms of water entitlements.

Minister, there is a strong possibility this new scientific work will reveal that some catchments are in fact now over allocated in terms of upgraded projections of future yields. If that is the case, and that is what the project confirms, what steps will the Government take?

Ms PALMER - I am going to refer that to the acting secretary.

Mr JACOBI - Through the minister, I would like to call Bryce Graham to the table. Bryce has been leading a lot of these research projects, in particular the climate change research project.

Mr GRAHAM - It is a very exciting space we live in currently. These projects, through the Rural Water Use Strategy are through NRE Tas, not NRET. I think you mentioned NRET were running the projects.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sorry, I meant NRE Tas.

Mr GRAHAM - As you mentioned, we do have our climate models. They were developed in 2010, roughly around that time. We had the Tas SY models and the climate futures for Tasmania. At the time, they were based on the IPCC.

Ms O'CONNOR - I know. I was the minister and I launched them, so thanks. Carry on with answering the question if you like.

Mr GRAHAM - Okay. The project is going to look at whether or not our future dry scenario is suitable and look at what other data is available now. The IPCC6 recommendations have come out and those models are being developed. We have been in discussions with the CSIRO, and they are waiting for those model outputs so that they can use that data. There are also the ESCI models about currently, the Electricity Section Climate Information, so there is that potential information to use. The project will look at doing it as a phase 1 and will have a pathway for improving our climate science going forward.

That may mean that our current future dry might be okay out to 2030, which we have based our allocation on currently, but going forward we may have to change that based on what that scenario says.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks Mr Graham, that is an answer.

Minister, many Tasmanian farmers, like so many of us, are extremely worried about climate change and what it will mean for river health and the availability of water to all the users. Tas Irrigation have talked about how climate has increased the risk to their schemes. TasWater has outlined concerns about access to water going forward, and we won't have up-to-date new estimates for catchment yields for some time. But the Government of which you are a member is still intent on expanding water use wherever possible across the state. This year's Budget shows 922 000 megalitres of water was licenced for irrigation in 2020-21. That is up by over 50 000 megalitres from the previous year, and this year's target is 40 000 megalitres higher again.

Minister, at what point will the management of river health - which I encourage you to talk about more, rather than water resources - but at what point will the management of river health and water resources actually be underpinned by climate science?

Ms PALMER - I can assure you that Tasmania's provision of drinking water and environmental requirements is not secondary to irrigation works, and each water allocation that is approved is given a surety level.

The highest priority is given to stock and domestic use and town water supply. That is surety 1, and that also goes to firefighting as well.

That is followed by water for ecosystem protection, which is surety 2. Then water licences are converted from old registered rights as surety 3, followed by rights of special licences, surety 4, and then irrigation and other commercial users, which is surety 5 through to 7.

Surety levels indicate the surety with which a water allocation can be expected to be available during a winter or summer take period, and each surety level has a notable availability attached. Where water restrictions are imposed, generally water allocations at a lower level of surety are restricted before restricting the taking of water allocations at higher surety.

Tas Irrigation has had a total of 148 686 megalitres of water allocated on water licences, with 138 834 megalitres of this water sourced in winter, from waterways and stored in dams. A total of 17 852 megalitres is sourced in summer, as either inflows into dams or direct extraction. For example, the Sassafras-Wesley Vale Irrigation Scheme. All Tasmanian irrigation dams that are in-stream dams are required to pass summer in-flows where no summer licence exists and environmental flow amount has been approved by the department. These environmental flows are detailed on the relevant water licence.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. This is my third question. Sorry to be that guy at the Table. But I asked you about climate and you did not mention the climate. What we are talking about here is a situation where on the one hand you have Tasmanian Irrigation saying there is a risk, you have TasWater saying there is a risk, you have got farmers sounding the alarm, and we have a situation where we are taking more and more water out of river systems then they can handle, according to the science under future climate scenarios. That is really serious stuff, minister.

Shouldn't the Government proactively be planning for the eventuality that they will need to reduce water entitlements in some catchments in order to protect rivers and in order to protect water resources for the future?

Ms PALMER - I am going to ask the acting secretary if we could get Catherine Murdoch back up to the table. Knowledge and understanding of Tasmania's fresh water resources underpins sustainable management. The effects of climate change are predicted to impact on catchment yields as well as on timing and demand and reliability of the supply of water.

Work is being undertaken to better understand the impacts of changing climate on our water resources. I am going to refer to Ms Murdoch for more on this.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is probably not a question for the department, but go right ahead.

Ms MURDOCH - Through the minister, in regards to every water allocation that occurs in the state, it is worthwhile noting that before an allocation is given, environmental water requirements are already taken off. As you well know, Ms O'Connor, as you stated to Mr Graham, we know the current catchment yields that are being modelled on some of the best leading science in the country in regards to our sustainable yields in climate change.

So, before we even look at a licence, we run the water assessment tool, which takes out the environmental requirement for that water, successfully securing water for water dependent ecosystems. Then the climate change is run on the dry scenario out to 2030. What is that dry scenario? All that water is taken out of the potential yield before that allocation can then be looked at, securing that safe water for river health and environment.

Ms O'CONNOR - It obviously has not fully worked, because you have a scientific report from within the department that says that river health is in constant decline since 2014. This process is not necessarily working.

Ms PALMER - I'll refer to the acting secretary.

Ms MURDOCH - What we then also make sure happens is that water needs to be available at the catchment, sub-catchment and local level thus enabling us to determine if there is any water to allocate in regards to that catchment. You said Tasmanian Irrigation is worried about climate yields. That is factored in. To be extra precautionary, we have not given out any summer water licences for over 10 years to protect that environmental water.

Our river health monitoring is happening. The new framework we have, the river drivers, is a very exciting project to see if there are any issues in river health and what those drivers are. Under the Rural Water Use Strategy, we will again look to determine, with all of the collaborating parties, what actions we might need to take collectively. As the deputy secretary read out, that is embedded in the Rural Water Use Strategy. Over the next five years we will be working on that.

Ms WILSON - We need to make a very slight call for clarification around the summer water.

Ms O'CONNOR - Around what?

Mr WINTER - Summer water.

Ms WILSON - Is it alright if we get advice. There's a very small clarification we have to make. Is that through you minister? Just let us correct the record on that.

Mr GRAHAM - Ms Murdoch said no summer water for the last 10 years. There has been some summer water allocation in the Mountain River, and where there have been comprehensive water management plans undertaken to assess the impact of further allocation of summer water.

Ms O'CONNOR - Is that to a hatchery? Is that to a salmon hatchery?

Ms PALMER - Sorry, I think that's another question and I believe Mrs Alexander has -

CHAIR - I think we're moving on to Mrs Alexander now.