NSW cultural watering plans for First Nations people

The Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) is inviting consultants to quote to assist First Nations people in developing cultural watering plans (CWPs). The cultural watering plans will outline how Aboriginal communities will use their water rights to achieve cultural outcomes.

Aboriginal-owned consultancies are preferred. The work will need to be undertaken in a culturally sensitive way and to manage cultural intellectual property appropriately. All CWPs are to be completed by June 2023.

The NSW State Water Strategy

As part of the State Water Strategy, the NSW Government has committed to increasing Aboriginal access to and ownership of water for cultural and economic purposes.

The NSW State Water Strategy is a 20-year, strategy to improve the security, reliability and quality of water resources. It has seven priorities and Priority 2 recognises First Nations people’s ownership of water for cultural and economic purposes.

DPE is currently running a parallel registration of interest process for Aboriginal community members to identify locations for pilot cultural watering plans. The successful tenderers will work with these identified communities to develop cultural watering plans.

What is a cultural watering plan?

A cultural watering plan (CWP) is a document that outlines how Aboriginal people want to use their water rights and identifies their water needs in a culturally safe way.

Currently, various water access licences are held by Aboriginal organisations in NSW. However, as a proportion of total entitlements it is very low. The NSW water management framework provides general water access licences and also specific purpose access licences that allow water use for Aboriginal cultural purposes. Only seven Aboriginal cultural access licences have ever been issued, with only two remaining in current use.

What may be included in a cultural watering plan?

Cultural watering plans may include access to in-stream, overland flow or groundwater for:

  • drinking
  • food preparation
  • washing
  • manufacture of traditional artefacts
  • watering of personal gardens o cultural teaching
  • hunting
  • fishing
  • bush tucker and bush medicine gathering
  • recreational purposes
  • cultural purposes
  • ceremonial purposes

Other community cultural needs may be:

  • keeping cultural flows in local rivers or creeks
  • watering culturally significant wetlands, billabongs or waterholes
  • protecting a water-dependent culturally significant site
  • maintaining adequate cultural water to meet the fishing, hunting, bush tucker and traditional medicine needs
  • maintaining adequate water quality and quantity to meet social needs including drinking, washing, swimming, parks and gardens
  • maintaining water protected in groundwater to allow naturally occurring springs, seepages and wells
  • maintaining connectivity in the rivers, creeks and pools during droughts and low flow times

One of the most important First Nations water cultural sites in Australia are the Brewarrina Fish Traps on the Barwon River (pictured). Traditionally known as Baiame’s Ngunnhu, they are a complex network of river stones arranged to form ponds and channels that catch fish as they travel downstream. They are possibly one of the oldest human-made structures in the world but their age is unknown.

How will DPE use the plans?

A CWP will help DPE to better understand how First Nations people want to use the water in their local community. The CWP will outline actions DPE can take to support First Nations ownership and access to water. DPE intends to use the information collected to improve their policy and planning frameworks to around Aboriginal access rights and interest in water management.

Need help with your tender?

The tender closes 13-Mar-2023 10:00am. Madrigal has extensive experience in the natural resource management of water in NSW and has also assisted several First Nations clients with developing and winning proposals. Contact us for more information.