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Prosecution begins over unlawful water take at Lower Murray vineyard

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has begun a significant prosecution in the NSW Land and Environment Court against a Lower Murray vineyard operator.

NRAR will allege that the former owner of a vineyard near Wentworth bypassed water meters and pumped up to 13,000 megalitres of water beyond their water licence allocation.

The water was allegedly taken illegally from the Darling River over four years between 2011 and 2015.

The alleged offences occurred shortly after the Millennium Drought when the Murray–Darling Basin and almost all the southern NSW cropping zones were still severely affected by dry conditions.

The amount allegedly unlawfully taken would fill 5,200 Olympic swimming pools.

NRAR Director Investigations and Enforcement, Lisa Stockley, said the allegations were extremely serious even though conditions in the area had since moved from severe drought to flooding in some locations.

“Periods of abundant rainfall have a way of taking attention away from the overall reality of finite water resources,” Ms Stockley said.

“When people irrigate unlawfully, they’re not just risking heavy penalties. Illegal water take can also cause significant harm to the environment and their own community.

“Since irrigated agriculture often includes the largest water users within a particular region, the regulator has made this a priority area for compliance and monitoring activities.”

"NRAR remains committed to the enforcement of the state's water laws, although we take the current challenging conditions into account” she said.

Quarterly reporting data gathered during July to September 2022 has also highlighted that illegal water take and water meter breaches remain the most common offence in NSW (48% of all offences).

Vineyard grapes on the vine
Vineyard grapes on the vine