Bourke cotton farmers to challenge water laws they are accused of breaching
The Harrises are charged with breaching an approval associated with their water licence for Beemery farm, a large property on the banks of the Barwon River.
The water licence they held entitled them to pump water from the Barwon River for irrigation using up to four pumps.
But an associated approval said they could pump only when the flows in the Barwon-Darling system, as measured at the Bourke weir, exceeded 4,894 megalitres a day.
Damning Murray-Darling report says NSW ‘well behind’ on water-sharing plans Read more If the river flow fell below that flow rate they were to cease pumping.
In 2017 the ABC’s Four Corners program alleged that some cotton farmers along the Barwon-Darling were illegally pumping water during low flow events and pumping during embargoes which are designed to protect environmental flows as they pass down the river.
The Harrises were named in the program as having taken water during low flow events, in breach of the state’s water laws.
Between 22 June and 30 June 2016 – when the offences are said to have occurred – Aspinall said there were records showing that the Harrises were pumping water despite the flows at the Bourke gauge having fallen to as low as 2,500 megalitres.
The Four Corners report has led to intense scrutiny of the NSW government’s poor record of enforcement of its water laws, particularly against big irrigators.
In the first day of the hearing, Elliott, for the Harrises, foreshadowed calling an expert witness, Dr Daniel Martins, to challenge the accuracy of the flows at the Bourke gauge.
This measurement is central to the charges.