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The Far West has some of the most exceptional natural landscapes in Australia, including vast semi-arid rangelands that are traversed by the rich Barwon–Darling river system floodplain. The Barwon–Darling system is crucial in connecting waters flowing from Queensland through NSW to the Murray River and the Great Artesian Basin, which provides water for the northern part of the region. 

The Murray River and the Menindee Lakes are nationally significant, while Narran Lake and Paroo River wetlands on the Darling Riverine Plains, and Lake Pinnaroo in the Bulloo Overflow, are internationally significant as Ramsar-listed wetlands. Major conservation reserves include the Sturt, Paroo–Darling, Mutawintji, Kinchega and Mungo national parks. 

 

The landscape supports a great diversity of species and ecosystems. Some of these ecosystems are fragile and susceptible to disturbance. Most vegetation has been substantially modified through the expansion of pastoralism and the effects of feral animals, particularly goats. Development of irrigation infrastructure has also modified floodplains and lakes. 

Climate change will have an impact on this region – with predicted seasonal shifts in rainfall, more hot days, fewer cold days and an increase in fire danger. Rainfall distribution will increase in summer and autumn, particularly in the north. As a result of these changes, living and working in the region is likely to become more challenging. 

The region’s communities have shown great capacity to adapt to what can be a harsh environment, using generations of knowledge, skills, hard work and innovation. The landscape of the Far West has special significance for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Coupled with the role the landscape plays in the economic activity of the region, it must be managed sustainably.

Environmental assets map

Click to enlarge.

Map of environmental assets in the Far West region


Protecting the region’s environmental assets will have flow-on economic benefits to communities; for example, through tourism, particularly nature-based tourism. 

Many ecosystems in the region are not currently protected within formal reserve systems and can face development pressures.40 Waterways and wetlands can be disturbed through water use changes, the clearing of vegetation, and feral animal populations such as goats that inhabit the rangelands and pigs that locate near waterways and wetlands.41 

The Government will introduce more consistent protection for environmental assets in the region, including updating mapping for potential high environmental value areas, through regulation and conservation measures. All development activities will have to be assessed in accordance with relevant legislation.

 

Local plans will need to consider measures to protect these areas. Maps of groundwater-dependent ecosystems and aquatic habitats are available from the Department of Primary Industries.

The NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects (2014) applies to all biodiversity in NSW, including aquatic biodiversity. All other offsets or compensation requirements are covered by the Department of Primary Industries’ Policy and guidelines for fish habitat conservation and management (2013).

 

A number of Travelling Stock Reserves are located within the Far West and are used primarily to move livestock and as supplementary grazing areas in times of drought. These reserves are parcels of Crown Land that are generally managed under trust by Local Land Services and can contain significant biodiversity values. These lands need to be managed carefully to protect them from the encroachment of incompatible uses. 

High environmental value areas

Potential high environmental value areas include:
  • existing conservation areas, including national parks and reserves, declared wilderness areas, Crown reserves dedicated to environmental protection and conservation, and flora reserves;
  • native vegetation of high conservation value, including vegetation types that have been over-cleared or occur within over-cleared landscapes and old-growth vegetation;
  • threatened ecological communities and key habitats;
  • wetlands and lagoons, such as the Ramsar-listed Lake Pinaroo,Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, which has Aboriginal and cultural heritage significance, and Menindee Lakes; 
  • the Barwon–Darling, Murray, Culgoa, Menindee Lakes, Paroo, Warrego, Narran, Bokara and Birrie river catchments;42 and 
  • areas of geological significance 

Actions

13.1 Map potential high environmental value areas.
13.2 Protect high environmental value assets through local plans.
13.3 Minimise potential impacts arising from development in areas of high environmental value, and consider appropriate mechanisms to identify offsets or other mitigation mechanisms for unavoidable impacts.
13.4 Improve the quality of, and access to, information relating to high environmental values.
13.5 Work with councils to identify Travelling Stock Reserves in local land use strategies.

The health of the region relies on maintaining and protecting water catchments, waterways, floodplains and riparian land. Healthy water systems underpin good water quality, biodiversity, recreation and a strong economy. Responding to water allocation and climate change impacts will be a major challenge for the region and its producers. 

Sustainable use of water resources

The region’s water supply is mostly delivered through its major rivers, which are susceptible to rainfall deficiencies and interruptions upstream. Surface water in some areas may not be suitable for drinking water and could place pressure on groundwater to meet community needs. 

Significant volumes of water have been recovered for the environment through the environmental rules set out in water sharing plans and significant water recovery programs, such as The Living Murray and the Commonwealth’s Murray–Darling Basin Plan. 

Water use needs to be carefully and equitably managed, taking into account the welfare of current and future residents, environmental needs and long-term economic prosperity. 

Healthy waterways and wetlands

Water quality in waterways and aquifers is essential to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems. The Department of Primary Industries’ Policy and guidelines for fish habitat conservation and management (2013) provides guidance and assists in managing and protecting valuable aquatic resources.

Key fish habitats include freshwater habitats that are important to preserve fish communities and the ongoing recreation and productivity of commercial fishing and aquaculture industries. Key fish habitats have been mapped by the Department of Primary Industries and, together with fish community status and aquatic threatened species distribution maps, will be used by councils during strategic planning and when they are developing local plans.

While the risk to water quality from a small population and development pressures is low, the fragility of the landscape means that water resources are even more vulnerable to individual and cumulative impacts. New development, particularly along the Murray and Darling rivers, needs to be located to reduce negative effects on aquatic habitat, waterways and wetlands. 

Rural floodplain management plans, administered by the Department of Primary Industries, identify water flows and protect water flow connectivity to wetlands to support the floodplain environment.

Manage land uses along river corridors 

It is important to manage settlement along the nationally important Murray, Darling and Barwon rivers corridors so that future generations are also able to use and benefit from these rivers. 

These rivers provide attractive locations for residential development, tourist accommodation and river-based recreation. Historically, development along these rivers has been ad hoc, and has in some cases resulted in undesirable development (such as extensive ribbon development along the Murray River in NSW).  

 

More recently, local land use planning has been more strategic and resulted in better development outcomes adjacent to the Murray River. Generally, settlement is directed away from the river bank, in accordance with setback provisions contained in local plans. 

The NSW Government will work with councils and relevant stakeholders to develop a waterfront management strategy to achieve a sustainable outcome for the future of the region’s rivers, particularly the Murray River. It will consider the complex, sometimes competing relationship between land uses; the objectives of various policies and legislative requirements; areas subject to growth pressures; heritage protection; and climate variability impacts. 

Review of Murray River planning controls

The Department of Planning and Environment commissioned a study to review the planning controls that apply to the Murray River and the issues affecting its users. The study identified the importance of continuing the use of river setback provisions to protect riverine values and to provide a wide range of benefits to the environment. It will form part of the evidence base required to support the review of the Murray Regional Environmental Plan No. 2–Riverine Land (2009).

Actions

14.1 Locate, design, construct and manage new developments to minimise impacts on water catchments, including downstream impacts and groundwater sources.  
14.2 Minimise the impacts of development on fish habitat, aquaculture and waterways (including watercourses, wetlands and riparian lands) and meet the NSW Government’s Water Quality and River Flow Objectives.
14.3 Prepare and implement a waterfront management strategy for the Murray River.
14.4 Protect the biodiversity, water quality and aesthetic values of the Murray River by retaining riverfront setback provisions in local plans and limiting ribbon development along the river. 
14.5 Assess the potential impacts new development may have on biodiversity along river corridors and establish plans to manage offsets.

The Far West will experience an increase in average temperatures, more hot days, fewer cold nights, changes in rainfall patterns and more intense bushfires due to climate change (see box over). 

These changes will affect the business cycles of farms and their productivity, with potential flow-on effects for the regional economy; create health problems for residents, particularly ageing populations; and threaten ecosystems and biodiversity by putting some native species at risk, particularly where feral and exotic species are competing with native plants and animals.

Better weather data for regional communities

Agricultural and mining activities, and aviation and emergency services (including fire and flood management) all rely on accurate and real-time weather information. 

Regional Development Australia has conducted a preliminary investigation into the feasibility of the installation of a weather radar service in the Orana region, which would significantly improve the accuracy of weather data in the Far West and Central West and Orana regions. Not having real-time weather data impacts on the preparedness of the community to deal with natural hazards. 

A high-resolution weather radar helps to predict the direction of storm cells and the intensity of rainfall. It also allows emergency services, aviation, businesses, authorities, tourists and residents to make better decisions on immediate weather conditions. Weather information can also be added to existing meteorological record-keeping to give a clearer picture of rainfall in the region. 

The possibility of remote power sourcing through renewable energy may allow the optimum location of a weather radar to service the region from a central position.

Natural hazards

Natural hazard mapping for flood and bushfire-prone land is undertaken by most councils, with the assistance of the NSW Government. Mapping is generally based on local historical data or information from individual site assessments. A more robust, strategic approach to identifying and mapping regional hazards is needed to help councils and other stakeholders make planning decisions. Climate change will make the regular review and updating of data essential.

Bushfire hazards and risks are identified on maps prepared by councils and certified by the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service. The extent of bushfire-prone land may increase with climate change; therefore, mapping will need to be reviewed and monitored at regular intervals.

The NSW Floodplain Development Manual (2005) guides development of flood liable land for the purposes of section 733 of the Local Government Act 1993. This manual refers to both urban and rural floodplain management and incorporates the NSW Flood Prone Land Policy, which aims to reduce the impact of flooding on individual owners and occupiers of flood-prone property, and private and public losses resulting from floods. 

Councils are responsible for managing flood risks in urban areas, including the development and implementation of floodplain risk management plans to manage flood risk in their local communities. The Office of Environment and Heritage provides both financial and technical support to councils.

The NSW Government will review floodplain risk studies and plans, and climate change data, and determine acceptable limits on development in vulnerable areas to reduce exposure to flood hazards.

Projected climate change impacts in the Far West

The Far West, like other NSW regions, is projected to be affected by climate change in a number of ways including:

  • experiencing an increase in both minimum and maximum temperatures of up to 0.7° C by 2030 and 2.1° C by 2070, particularly in the far north-west;
  • experiencing an increase in the number of hot days (above 35° C) per year, particularly in the northern parts of the region, with an extra 10–20 hot days in the near future, and around 30 in the far future;
  • experiencing fewer cold nights (below 2° C) on average, with the greatest decrease in the number of cold nights likely to be in the south-east – between five and 10 fewer nights in the near future, and 10 and 20 fewer nights in the far future;
  • having reduced rainfall in spring, and more rainfall in autumn, with the largest reduction in rainfall within the southern areas; and
  • having more intense periods of fire weather in the near future, including increased risk of bushfires and bushfire weather in spring and summer.44 

Climate change

To manage and respond to climate change risks, communities need the best information to inform adaptive responses.

 

The NSW Government is providing information and investing in technology, research and a policy review to help communities prepare for climate change. The Office of Environment and Heritage is identifying communities at risk from climate change and prioritising adaptation responses in NSW. This will help local decision-makers build their capacity to respond to climate change, and is reflected in programs such as the Western Enabling Regional Adaptation project, which will include the Far West.43

Preparing and adapting to climate change

In 2016, the NSW Government, in partnership with the University of Technology Sydney, consulted local decision-makers in the region, including in Wentworth and Balranald, to identify and better understand regional vulnerabilities and emerging risks from a changing climate. This work is known as the Far West Enabling Regional Adaptation project.

 

The project identifies adaptation pathways and opportunities to minimise climate change impacts on local communities. It will help to identify responses to vulnerabilities, identify the region’s ability to cope (known as its ‘adaptive capacity’) and inform government service delivery at a regional and subregional scale.

 

The Office of Environment and Heritage will continue to develop information to help councils protect and manage ecosystems, and minimise risks to local communities.

 

The NSW Climate Change Policy Framework and the Climate Change Fund Draft Strategic Plan 2017 to 2022 also set policy directions and prioritise investment to reduce carbon emissions and adapt and mitigate impacts of climate change.

Actions

15.1 Incorporate the findings of the Far West Enabling Regional Adaptation project to inform land use and planning decisions.
15.2 Adopt a whole-of-government approach to information exchange, to support climate change adaptation and preparedness.
15.3 Respond to climate-related risks by applying and communicating fine-scale climate information to support decision-making.
15.4 Locate developments, including new urban release areas, away from areas of known high biodiversity value, high bushfire and flooding hazards, and designated waterways, to reduce the community’s exposure to natural hazards.
15.5 Implement the requirements of the NSW Floodplain Development Manual 2005 by updating flood studies and floodplain risk management plans.
15.6 Incorporate the best available hazard information in local plans consistent with current flood studies, flood planning levels, modelling and floodplain risk management plans.
15.7 Update and share current information on environmental assets and natural hazards with councils to inform planning decisions.
15.8 Manage the risks of disturbance in areas affected by naturally occurring asbestos.

Page last updated: 06/07/2017