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The New England North West’s natural environment is one of its distinguishing features. Environmental assets include protected ecosystems, World Heritage-listed rainforests (such as the Oxley Wild Rivers), internationally recognised wetlands in the Moree Plains and rare sub-alpine communities at Mount Kaputar near Narrabri that occur nowhere else on the planet. 

These natural assets sustain productive agriculture, deliver clean air and water, and improve community wellbeing. Strengthening regional environment assets will also diversify opportunities for nature-based tourism and help grow the $740 million tourism sector.4 

Water quality and supply supports the agricultural sector, industry, urban areas and the environment. A holistic management approach will maximise productive capacity, while preserving water catchments and environmental values. 

Ecosystems and communities are subject to natural hazards that will be exacerbated by climate change. Building resilience, innovation and adaptation will help to manage water, harness renewable energy and prepare for natural hazards. Land use and infrastructure planning must respond to these risks and opportunities. 

 

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Water extraction from rivers contributes to economic prosperity, but too much extraction may severely affect aquatic ecosystems, especially during periods of low river flows.

Water Management

The Murray Darling Basin Plan (2012) aims to sustainably share water between all users, including the environment. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is developing long-term water plans in response to the Basin Plan. These will identify priority water-dependant assets, environmental water requirements and strategies to improve environmental outcomes. 

The NSW Department of Primary Industries allocates water to landholders through water-sharing plans and licences. These protect the health of rivers and groundwater, while giving water users perpetual access licences, equitable conditions and opportunities to trade water. 

The scale of potential changes from water trading and water sharing is not yet fully understood. Monitoring the effects on river health, agricultural land use and settlements will guide future policy responses.

Some water catchments are at risk of very low water supplies at certain times. The Gwydir catchment is a priority under the Rebuilding NSW Regional Water Security and Supply Fund. 

The Cap and Pipe the Bores Program gives landholders in the Great Artesian Basin financial incentives to cap and pipe their bores to increase artesian pressure, and to improve water efficiency and water quality. 

Water sensitive urban design can limit water loss from buildings and extend the life and reliability of water supplies. Councils can improve water efficiency through building design; planning controls that avoid or mitigate impacts of development on drinking water catchments; and using wastewater for council parks or in agriculture. 

Water quality and aquatic habitats

Protecting water quality and maintaining water flows sustains healthy aquatic ecosystems. To support ecosystem health, water quality should be managed to meet the objectives of the Water Management Act 2000

Maintaining key freshwater habitats preserves fish communities and the recreation and productivity of aquaculture industries. Key fish habitats mapped by the Department of Primary Industries include many waterways and lakes, such as the Namoi and Gwydir rivers. These maps will guide council strategic planning and local plans, together with fish community status and aquatic threatened species distribution maps. 

The fragility of the landscape means that water resources are more vulnerable to individual and cumulative impacts. New development should be located to minimise impacts on aquatic habitats such as waterways and wetlands, including downstream impacts. There are many vegetated areas that help to protect waterways and aquatic environments, such as riparian corridors. Councils should consider identifying the importance of these areas through their local planning processes to help protect aquatic habitats.

Water Sensitive Urban Design5

Water Sensitive Urban Design can be incorporated into homes, streets, parking areas, subdivisions, public land, and multi-unit, commercial and industrial developments.

It includes:

  • permeable paving of footpaths, common areas and parking spaces above underground water storage facilities;
  • water-efficient fittings and appliances;
  • maintaining fixtures (stopping leaks and drips from plumbing and taps);
  • green roofs and living walls (plantings on roofs and down walls);
  • appropriate landscaping (efficient irrigation, mulching, wind and sun protection, minimising lawn area and selection of suitable plants);
  • purpose-built wetlands to capture and treat water run-off;
  • capture and storage of rainwater and stormwater for residential re-use, or to irrigate parks, sporting fields and other open space; and
  • capture, treatment and re-use of wastewater.

Actions

10.1 Implement the Murray–Darling Basin Plan to balance social, economic and environmental outcomes.
10.2 Monitor the impacts of water-sharing plans on river and groundwater health, agriculture and settlements.
10.3 Investigate projects that deliver sustainable water outcomes in high-risk water catchments including the Gwydir.
10.4 Adopt an integrated approach to water cycle management to consider regional climate change, water security, sustainable demand and growth, and the natural environment.
10.5 Incorporate measures to improve water efficiency in urban and rural settings, including water sensitive urban design for new developments, into local planning policies.
10.6 Encourage the use of alternate water sources on local government assets, including playing fields.
10.7 Minimise the impact of development on key native fish habitat, address the cold water pollution impacts of Copeton Dam and mitigate barriers to fish movement.
10.8 Ensure local plans manage water catchment areas and groundwater sources to avoid potential development impacts.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage has mapped potential high environmental value areas, including groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Improved data will allow early consideration of the potential impacts of new development on these areas during strategic planning.

The map showing areas of potential high environmental value will inform opportunities for biodiversity offsetting, council planning strategies and local environmental plans. Using an evidence based approach to identifying high environmental value areas and protecting important assets will help to maintain diversity and habitat for flora and fauna. 

The Anaiwan, Banbai, Bundjalung, Githabul, Gumbaynggirr, Kamilaroi, Kwaimbul, Ngoorabal and Dunghutti are the first people of the region and have a strong connection to community, country and culture. The Aboriginal community has significant knowledge and skills in the protection of local biodiversity and natural resources. 

Consideration should be given to Aboriginal community involvement in natural resource management and planning.

Mapping high environmental value areas

A range of criteria was used to map high environmental values land including:

  • existing conservation areas, including national parks and reserves, declared wilderness areas, Crown reserves dedicated for 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, old growth forests and rainforests; 
  • threatened ecological communities and key habitats;
  • important wetlands and lakes; and
  • sites of geological significance. 
The data used to identify high environmental value land in the Plan is intended to provide a regional-level overview for the purposes of strategic planning.
This data will continue to be updated as information becomes available. Interested parties should contact the Office of Environment and Heritage for current data and further support.

Environment Assets

Click to enlarge.
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Actions

11.1 Focus development to areas of least biodiversity sensitivity and implement the ‘avoid, minimise, offset’ hierarchy to biodiversity and areas of high environmental value.
11.2 Ensure local plans consider areas of high environmental value to avoid potential development impacts.
11.3 Encourage the identification of vegetated areas adjacent to aquatic habitats and riparian corridors in local plans.

The New England North West Climate Change Snapshot (2014) projections indicate a warmer climate will result in altered rainfall patterns and more intense bushfires, droughts and floods to 2050 and beyond.6 Equipping communities with the right tools and access to the best available information will help people and businesses to meet the challenges of the future. 

The New England North West Enabling Regional Adaptation Project led by the Office of Environment and Heritage provides a structured process to understand projected climate impacts and identify opportunities to address regional vulnerabilities. 

Land use planning can help minimise and manage the impacts of climate change. Local environment plans can identify hazard-prone land and apply provisions to exclude these areas from development, unless hazards can be managed. 

Flooding is a major hazard in some areas. Councils are responsible for managing flood risks, including the development and implementation of floodplain risk management plans. These plans use a merit-based approach that balances social, economic, environmental and flood-risk parameters to determine the appropriate use of flood-prone land. 

The region is projected to experience an increase in average and severe bushfires in the future. Accurate up-to-date information can reduce bushfire risk. Maps of bushfire prone land prepared by councils identify bushfire hazards and risks. These maps must be regularly updated to reflect predicted changes to bushfire-prone land. 

Naturally occurring asbestos is found in the Great Serpentine Belt from Tamworth to Bingara. Asbestos only poses a risk to people if the fibres are inhaled, which can occur through natural weathering or if disturbed during agricultural or building activities. Relevant councils can effectively manage risks associated with naturally occurring asbestos through local risk management strategies. 

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. 

Projected climatic changes in New England North West

The region will experience:

  • increased occurrence of heatwaves, hot days and fire risk;
  • potential for increases in seasonal extremes, particularly rainfall events and droughts;
  • increased autumn rainfall and decreased winter rainfall in both the near and far future, with rainfall patterns to vary across the region;
  • increased short and intense rainfall events, resulting in increased localised flooding from smaller urban streams and urban drainage systems;
  • increase in maximum temperatures in the near future (2020–2039) by 0.7˚C and in the far future (2060–79) by 2.2˚C to 2.5˚C; and
  • increase in minimum temperatures in the near future by 0.7˚C and in the far future by 2.3˚C.

The CSIRO and Department of Primary Industries are researching how best to adapt agricultural production to climate change, including breeding and evaluating new plant varieties for agriculture and forestry.

Actions

12.1 Minimise the risk from natural hazards and the projected effects of climate change by identifying hazards, managing risks and avoiding vulnerable areas, particularly when considering new urban release areas.
12.2 Incorporate new knowledge on regional climate projections, including flooding and bushfire risk, related cumulative impacts, and findings of the New England North West Enabling Regional Adaptation Project in local plans for new development.
12.3 Review and update floodplain and bushfire mapping to manage risk, particularly where urban growth is being investigated.
12.4 Encourage councils where naturally occurring asbestos occurs to map the extent of asbestos and develop an asbestos policy to manage associated risks.

Page last updated: 02/11/2017