Water is a divisive issue but irrigator stakeholder groups from across the state appear united in supporting a push to reinstate regional managers for NSW river valleys.
NSW Irrigators' Council (NSWIC) ignited a campaign for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to appoint regional managers to each water valley this week.
A NSWIC statement read that in the past the regional manager position was responsible for the staff in each valley, playing a coordination role and providing a single point of contact for regional people.
- Webinar to discuss future irrigation prices in the southern Murray Darling Basin
- Water brokers back ACCC call for regulated Murray Darling water trade
- 'Basin Plan must change to ensure dairy jobs', says lobby group
NSWIC chief executive officer Claire Miller said the structure had operated successfully and effectively but was "abandoned to the detriment of the department's reputation and community trust."
"Each valley in NSW is unique, with specific management and policy issues," Ms Miller said.
"This requires department staff with a strong understanding of local issues, circumstances and concerns.
"The Murray Valley, for example, is a shared resource between three States, with its own specific and complex management and policy issues.
"A NSW Murray regional manager would have the insights and relationships necessary to provide regionally specific advice on policy design and implementation to the Department, and to work with communities through that process."
West Corurgan Private Irrigation District chairman James Nixon agreed the Murray Valley needed someone on the ground who understood the region.
"We used to have a regional manager and they always looked out for the Murray's interests, not solely irrigators' interests but the interests of our region as a whole, but now we have to rely on someone in Sydney or Canberra to make the decisions," Mr Nixon said.
A loss of confidence
The topic is one the Murray Valley Private Diverters (MVPD), who are no longer a member of NSWIC, have raised with the department and Water Minister Melinda Pavey before.
MVPD executive officer Louise Burge said irrigators had lost confidence that Murray Valley issues were being properly considered in negotiations.
"At this stage we also don't have the opportunity to have ongoing conversations with the department and a two-way sharing of information," Ms Burge said.
Ricegrowers Association policy manager Rachel Kelly said they also strongly supported the push to reappoint regional managers.
"People feel the department is out of touch with the irrigation sector, and doesn't fully understand or appreciate the impacts of its decisions on water users and communities," she said.
"The advice and feedback we provide to the department often seems to fall on death ears, despite these decisions having very real impacts on irrigators' businesses."
North and south unite in support
Namoi Water executive officer Jon-Maree Baker said it was crucial for a regional manager to have enough authority to facilitate high-level decision making.
"We're talking about a senior bureaucrat who lives in the regions and has regional experience," Ms Baker said.
"It's one thing to make a decision and then go back to live in a community where there are no water issues, and another to live in a community where the impacts of those decisions are felt directly."
In response to the call from NSWIC, a spokesperson from the DPIE said the department had not used regional managers for individual valleys for many years.
"How we provide services to all water users must continue to develop and the department is open to considering all suggestions for how we can improve, including through regional representation," they said.
"The rollout of the Regional Water Strategies, combined with the creation of a new Chief Operating Officer role within DPIE, is the first step in ensuring each region gets the right balance of operational and policy support."
While, NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said the NSW Government plans to beef up support for regional communities and is developing a system to ensure that regional communities have access to the operational and policy support that they need, taking into account the different requirements of water users across the state.
Want to read more stories like this?
Sign up below to receive our e-newsletter delivered fresh to your email in-box twice a week.