Irrigator faces huge fines for taking water when meter was broken
A Moree Plains irrigator will pay fines totalling $353,750 after the company pleaded guilty to and was convicted in the NSW Land and Environment Court of four offences under the NSW Water Management Act.
The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) brought the prosecution against Henry Payson Pty Ltd, which operates 1500ha Binneguy Station in northern NSW - including 152ha of crops irrigated from the Gwydir River.
NRAR alleged the company knowingly took water while its metering equipment was not working and built and used a 610ML dam without approval.
The Court fined the company $175,000 for the first offence, which involved 12 instances of knowingly taking water while metering equipment was not working between July 2016 and June 2017.
The second offence attracted a fine of $125,000 for 27 instances of knowingly taking water while metering equipment was not working between July 2017 and June 2018.
For constructing a dam without approval, the company was fined $43,750 and for using the dam without approval, a further $10,000.
Henry Payson Pty Ltd will pay NRAR’s legal costs, which have yet to be determined, and a further $2,374 to cover the cost of NRAR's investigation.
In her judgment handed down this week, Justice Rachel Pepper said she was "satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Payson knowingly took water while the meter was under-recording" and that their actions "deliberately deceived the regulator" about the amount of water pumped from the Gwydir River during 2016/17 and 2017/2018.
Justice Pepper said the offences caused “substantial harm to the integrity and consistent administration of the water management scheme in NSW".
She said water users were required by law to accurately meter their water to preserve the integrity and sustainability of water sharing plans and water laws.
"Accurate metering information ensures that the regulator is able to set appropriate limits on the amount of water able to be extracted and to properly charge water users for that extraction," she said.
Justice Pepper said the metering offences had undermined the objectives of NSW water laws to a “significant extent”.
NRAR Director Investigations and Enforcement Lisa Stockley said the Court's finding was significant for all NSW water users.
“Communities across NSW have said they want a fair, transparent and enforceable water compliance regime in place to prevent unlawful water take,” Ms Stockley said.
“NRAR will take strong regulatory action when required. Those who commit serious, substantiated and wilful acts of non-compliance will face the full force of the law,” she said.
The full judgment can be read here.