Goal 2 – Exceptional semi-arid rangelands traversed by the Barwon Darling River
The Far West has some of the most exceptional natural landscapes in Australia, which have special significance for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The natural environment and landscape support economic activity and must be managed sustainably.
The Barwon–Darling River system is crucial in connecting waters from Queensland through NSW to the Murray River and the Great Artesian Basin, which provides water for the northern part of the region.
It is these landscapes that give the Far West its distinctive character and lifestyle. Improved management of environmental assets will allow them to be enjoyed in the future.
The landscapes support a 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. The rangelands have degraded over time due to seasonal droughts, overgrazing and introduced species, such as rabbits and goats. Development of irrigation infrastructure has modified floodplains and lake systems.
Ecosystems and communities are subject to natural hazards that will be exacerbated by climate change, with predicted seasonal shifts in rainfall, more hot days, fewer cold days and greater fire danger. Living and working in the region is likely to become more challenging and land use and infrastructure planning must respond to these risks.
Communities have shown great capacity to adapt to what can be a harsh environment, using generations of knowledge, skills, hard work and innovation.
The competing demands of cultural heritage, environmental values and efficient water storage make the Menindee Lakes one of the most complex water systems to manage in Australia.30
The Menindee Lakes were modified during the 1950s and 1960s to provide Broken Hill with a reliable water supply and to provide water for irrigation to NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
A series of investigations by the NSW Government identified potential structural works and management changes to improve the efficiency of the Menindee Lakes and reduce evaporation losses. In 2014, the Australian and NSW Governments announced funding to undertake project planning and detailed design work to achieve significant average water savings from the lake system.31
Mungo National Park
The Willandra Lakes region, including Mungo National Park, has evolved over the past two million years. Mungo National Park, located 110 kilometres north-east of Wentworth, protects an area of unique international and national landscape and cultural heritage values. The area is significant to the Paakantyi, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngyiampaa Aboriginal groups.
These values are maximised and conserved under the Mungo National Park Plan and Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area Plan.
Abundant environmental assets deliver clean air and water and improve lifestyles and wellbeing. Assets include the Darling, Barwon and Murray rivers, Menindee Lakes and the internationally significant Ramsar wetlands, including Narran Lake, Lake Pinaroo and Paroo River wetlands. Major conservation reserves include the Sturt, Paroo–Darling, Mutawintji, Kinchega and Mungo national parks.
These natural resources underpin industries and are the foundation of a significant tourism sector. Protecting environmental assets will have flow-on economic benefits to communities through nature-based tourism.
Many ecosystems are not protected within formal reserve systems and face pressure from development, a changing climate and introduced species. Protection and management mechanisms must respond to these pressures. This could include restoring perennial grasses in rangeland pastures to increase livestock production and provide environmental stability. Improved land management arrangements – such as exclusionary fencing, grazing management and coordinated pest management – would benefit the fragile rangelands.
Improved data will inform strategic and land use planning and allow consideration of the impacts of development on areas of potential high environmental value at the strategic planning stage, rather than later at the development assessment stage.
Some parts of the region are covered by carbon offsets or conservation agreements. It is important that offsets and other appropriate mechanisms are established to mitigate potential impacts of development. This includes offsets required for developments under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 or Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and those in accordance with the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects. These offset areas should be appropriately recognised in local plans to ensure future protection and to recognise the alternative land management economy that they now represent.
The NSW Government will introduce more consistent protection for environmental assets through regulation and conservation measures including updated mapping for potential high environmental value areas. Local plans will need to consider measures to protect these areas. In this regard, maps of groundwater-dependent ecosystems and aquatic habitats are available from the Department of Primary Industries.
Travelling Stock Reserves that primarily move livestock and provide supplementary grazing areas in times of drought, bushfire or flood can have regionally significant biodiversity value, as well as Aboriginal cultural heritage value. Strategic planning can help to carefully manage this land.
High environmental value areas
Potential high environmental value areas include:
- existing conservation areas including national parks and reserves, declared wilderness areas, flora reserves, and Crown reserves dedicated to environmental protection and conservation;
- native vegetation of high conservation value, including vegetation types that have been over-cleared or that occur within over-cleared landscapes and old-growth vegetation;
- threatened ecological communities and key habitats;
- important wetlands; and
- sites of geological significance.
13.1 Map potential high environmental value areas and protect these areas through local plans and strategies.
13.2 Minimise potential impacts arising from development in areas of high environmental value, and consider appropriate mechanisms in local plans to identify offsets or other mitigation mechanisms for unavoidable impacts.
13.3 Improve the quality of, and access to, information relating to high environmental values.
13.4 Finalise a NSW Travelling Stock Reserve state planning framework to guide the management and development of regional Travelling Stock Reserve management plans.
13.5 Recognise offset areas in local plans to protect their values in perpetuity.
13.6 Support the recognition and protection of cultural, heritage and biodiversity values of Travelling Stock Routes within the region.
Healthy water catchments, waterways, floodplains and riparian land 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 communities.
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.
Water use needs to be carefully and equitably managed, and consider the welfare of current and future residents, environmental needs and long-term economic prosperity.
Significant volumes of water have been allocated to the environment through water sharing plans and significant water recovery programs, such as The Living Murray and the Commonwealth’s Murray–Darling Basin Plan released in 2012.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan sets out regional water use at environmentally sustainable levels by determining long-term average sustainable diversion limits. It also sets lower extraction limits for surface water that will be implemented through water resource plans to be completed by 2019 and long-term watering plans.32
The Barwon-Darling and Murray-Lower Darling long-term watering plans will include objectives and targets for fish, plants, waterbirds and links between rivers and wetlands. Following community consultation, the Barwon-Darling Long-Term Watering Plan is scheduled to be completed by May 2019 and the Murray-Lower Darling Long-Term Watering Plan by July 2019.
Healthy waterways and wetlands
Water quality in waterways and aquifers is essential to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems. The Department of Primary Industries has released the Policy and guidelines for fish habitat conservation and management (2013) to help manage and protect valuable aquatic resources.
Maintaining key freshwater habitats preserves fish communities, recreational fishing and the productivity of commercial fishing and aquaculture industries. Given the region’s stocks of endangered and critically endangered fish species and habitats, the Department of Primary Industries has mapped key fish habitats and many waterways and lakes, such as the Darling, Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. Together with fish community status and aquatic threatened species distribution maps, these maps will guide councils strategic planning and local plans.
While the risk to water quality from a small population and limited development pressures is low, the fragility of the landscape means 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 avoid and reduce negative effects on aquatic habitat, waterways and wetlands.
Rural floodplain management plans, administered by the Department of Primary Industries, identify and protect water flows and connectivity to wetlands which supports the floodplain environment.
14.1 Implement the Murray–Darling Basin Plan to balance social, economic and environmental outcomes.
14.2 Finalise water resource plans and long-term watering plans for surface water and groundwater systems in accordance with the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.
14.3 Support the preservation of Aboriginal cultural flows in the Murray-Darling Basin.
14.5 Minimise the impacts of development on fish habitat, aquaculture and waterways (including watercourses, wetlands and riparian lands) and help deliver the objectives of the Water Management Act 2000.
14.6 Implement and monitor the environmental water program associated with the Darling Anabranch Pipeline to ensure the long-term health of the ecosystems associated with the Great Darling Anabranch.
Any settlement along the Murray, Darling and Barwon River corridors must be managed to conserve and enhance the corridors’ environmental values and enable future generations to use and benefit from these rivers.
Flows in the Barwon-Darling River system carry water from catchments in northern NSW and Queensland, including the Paroo River. The flow is highly variable and many of the waterways only reach the Barwon-Darling River system after major floods.
Development along the Darling and Barwon rivers is generally less intensive compared to the Murray River; however, water flows in these rivers and tributaries remain important for most communities in the Far West and should not be further compromised by land use activities, particularly agricultural activities, in the upper catchments.
Generally, settlement and urban land uses are directed away from riverbank areas, consistent with setbacks in local plans. However, some planning policies applying to rivers, particularly the Murray River, are outdated, irrelevant or inconsistently applied. This results in poor development outcomes, such as extensive ribbon development along the riverbank.
A waterfront management strategy for the Murray River will consider existing and potential riverfront land uses, applicable government policies, projected growth pressures, heritage values and the effect of climate change, and identify appropriate responses to these issues. This strategy should be applied, where applicable and appropriate, to the Darling-Barwon River system.
Ongoing collaboration with regional stakeholders and all levels of government will improve policy and create innovative policy responses to the complex relationships and legislative requirements of various jurisdictions, as well as mechanisms to manage often competing land uses along the river corridors.
15.1 Prepare and implement a waterfront management strategy for the Murray River.
15.2 Implement the outcomes of the Murray River waterfront management strategy in the Barwon-Darling River system, where appropriate and applicable.
15.3 Retain riverfront setback provisions in local plans and limit ribbon development along the Murray River to protect biodiversity, water quality and aesthetic values.
15.4 Consider and assess the potential impacts of new development on biodiversity along river corridors, including the Murray, Darling and Barwon rivers.
Climate change poses significant risks for the Far West’s ecosystems, agricultural productivity, community health and wellbeing, and the sustainability of rural communities. Projections indicate a changing climate will mean an increase in average temperatures, more hot days, fewer cold nights, changes in rainfall patterns and more intense bushfires.
These changes will affect the business cycles of farms and their productivity, with potential flow-on effects for the regional economy, and could increase the risk of health problems for residents, particularly older people. Ecosystems and biodiversity may also be threatened and some native species could be put at risk, particularly where introduced species compete with native flora and fauna.
To manage and respond to climate change risks, communities need access to the best climate and water level data 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 work will help local decision-makers build their capacity to respond to climate change, as reflected in programs such as the Western Enabling Regional Adaptation project that will include the Far West.33
Projected climate change impacts in the Far West
The Far West, like other NSW regions, is projected to be affected by climate change by 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;
- 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 by 2030, and around 30 by 2070;
- 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 by 2030, and 10 and 20 fewer nights by 2070;
- reduced rainfall in spring, and more rainfall in autumn, with the largest reduction in rainfall within the southern areas; and
- more intense periods of fire weather in the near future, including increased risk of bushfires and bushfire weather in spring and summer.34
Preparing and adapting to climate change
In 2016, the NSW Government, in partnership with the University of Technology Sydney, consulted local decision-makers, including in Wentworth and Balranald Councils, 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 to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
16.1 Incorporate the findings of the Far West Enabling Regional Adaptation project to inform land use and planning decisions.
16.2 Adopt a whole-of-government approach to information exchange, to support climate change adaptation and preparedness.
16.3 Respond to climate-related risks by applying and communicating fine-scale climate information to support decision making.
A more robust, strategic approach to identify and map regional hazards will help councils and other stakeholders make decisions. Climate change makes the regular review, update and sharing of data essential.
Bushfire hazards and risks are mapped by councils and certified by the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service. The extent of bushfire-prone land may increase with climate change, requiring regular monitoring and reviews of mapping.
Managing flooding is a priority for the NSW Government and councils. The NSW Floodplain Development Manual (2005) and the NSW Flood Prone Land Policy aim to reduce the impact of flooding on individual owners and occupiers of flood-prone property and private and public losses resulting from floods.
Councils manage flood risks in urban areas, including the development and implementation of floodplain risk management plans. The Office of Environment and Heritage provides financial and technical support to councils to fulfil this responsibility.
Naturally occurring asbestos with potential impacts from ground-disturbing activities occur primarily in and around Broken Hill. Naturally occurring asbestos only poses a health risk when elevated levels of fibres are released into the air, either by human activities or by natural weathering, and the fibres are inhaled. The Office of Local Government’s Model Asbestos Policy for NSW Councils (2015) helps councils to formulate asbestos policies and promotes a consistent approach to managing asbestos.
Better weather data for regional communities
Agricultural and mining activities, and aviation and emergency services (including fire and flood management) rely on accurate and real-time weather information.
Regional Development Australia Orana has investigated the feasibility of installing a Doppler 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.
Real-time weather data will help communities to better deal with natural hazards, and enables emergency services, aviation, businesses, authorities, tourists and residents to make better decisions on immediate weather conditions. Weather information can be added to existing meteorological record-keeping to give a clearer picture of rainfall trends.
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.
17.1 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.
17.2 Implement the requirements of the NSW Floodplain Development Manual 2005 by updating flood studies and floodplain risk management plans.
17.3 Incorporate the best available hazard information in local plans consistent with current flood studies, flood planning levels, modelling and floodplain risk management plans.
17.4 Update and share current information on environmental assets and natural hazards with councils to inform planning decisions.
17.5 Manage the risks of disturbance in areas affected by naturally occurring asbestos.
17.6 Identify a suitable location for a new Doppler weather radar to provide more accurate weather information in the Far West so that planning decisions better respond to natural hazard risks and changing climatic conditions.
17.7 Improve the existing water level gauge network in the Far West to enable more accurate predication and response to regional flooding risks.
The region’s rich Aboriginal cultural heritage is integral to its identity and character. Aboriginal cultural heritage includes places and items significant to Aboriginal people because of their traditions, observances, lore, customs, beliefs and history. They include important burial, battle, camping, hunting and fishing sites. Aboriginal cultural heritage also relates to the connection and sense of belonging that people have with the landscape and with each other.
Ongoing data collection will identify and protect cultural heritage assets. Conserving these assets, and respecting the Aboriginal community’s right to determine how these assets are identified and managed, will help preserve their significant values.
Engagement and partnerships with Aboriginal communities provide opportunities for information sharing and more effective management of cultural values and cultural heritage. Harm to Aboriginal objects and places, or areas significant to Aboriginal people, must be avoided. Any proposed management or development activity must consider the potential impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage values.
18.1 Promote opportunities for unique visitor experiences associated with Aboriginal cultural heritage in national parks and reserves.
18.2 Protect, manage and respect Aboriginal objects and places in accordance with legislative requirements.
18.3 Undertake Aboriginal cultural heritage assessments to inform local land use strategies and to identify any appropriate heritage management mechanism.
18.4 Consult with Aboriginal people and the broader community during strategic planning to identify and protect heritage values; minimise the impact of urban growth and development; and recognise their contribution to the character and landscape of the region.
18.5 Continue to work with Aboriginal communities to jointly manage national parks and reserves to contribute to economic, social and cultural outcomes for Aboriginal communities.
European heritage enriches the character of places and can generate economic value, particularly through tourism, which can in turn sustain smaller communities.
Heritage-listed buildings from the early settlement of towns include Wilcannia Hospital and Courthouse, Bourke Post Office and Courthouse and Cobar Railway Station. The entire town of Broken Hill is on the National Heritage List for its planning, design, landscaping, desert isolation and its role in Australia’s mining industry and national development.35
Heritage conservation enhances main streets and town centres, attracts new businesses, residents and visitors. Better promotion and targeted community education initiatives will engender community support to manage and protect heritage assets.
Broken Hill retains a cluster of significant cultural facilities that could be formed into a designated cultural precinct, with branding, tourist trails and activities. Other opportunities could leverage existing arts and cultural activities in public areas to reactivate and revitalise the CBD.
Removing barriers to the adaptive re-use of heritage items will help communities to retain physical connections to settlement history and promote the benefits of re-use, particularly in smaller communities.
Development can have a cumulative impact on historic places. Early investment to protect and preserve heritage at the strategic planning stage will provide greater certainty for stakeholders.
19.1 Increase heritage protection and revitalise main streets and town centres through community education and development incentives in local plans.
19.2 Prepare, review and update heritage studies in consultation with the community to recognise and conserve heritage assets and items, and include in appropriate local planning controls.
19.3 Prepare a master plan for a designated cultural precinct in Broken Hill to leverage arts activation for tourism, visitor attraction and community benefit.
19.4 Consult with the Heritage Division of the Office of Environment and Heritage when assessing applications for land use changes, new developments or expanding uses within or near heritage items.
19.5 Map and protect heritage items (including archaeology) from land use conflicts arising from inappropriate and incompatible surrounding land uses, including from cumulative impacts of development.
View other chapters
Page last updated: 28/07/2022