Bathurst Regional Council has debated an 'official caution' notice handed down from the Natural Resources Access Regulator [NRAR] regarding a breach in their conditions for the release of water from Winburndale Dam into the Winburndale Rivulet.
NRAR's investigation found council to be in breach of section 91B of the Water Management Act 2000: constructing or using water supply work without, or otherwise than as authorised by, a water supply work approval.
"Council are obligated to ensure that, as per the approval for Winburndale Dam, water is released to the Winburndale Rivulet based on inflows, storage level and climatic conditions," an NRAR spokesperson said.
"These obligations have been made clear in the official caution, and NRAR will proactively monitor compliance over the coming months."
However, council's general manager David Sherley has dismissed NRAR's actions as false.
"The official caution from NRAR is incorrect and council is not in breach of the flow rules for the Winburndale Dam," Mr Sherley said.
"Council has attempted to obtain clarification from NRAR and will continue to seek to meet with representatives from the organisation to discuss the matter."
The official caution is the result of a months-long investigation stemming from a Winburndale Waters Conservation Group report that suggested 750 megalitres of water had been withheld in the dam across 2019, during the height of the drought.
NRAR is a peak state government body responsible for the compliance and enforcement of water laws in NSW, and takes a graduated approach to alleged non-compliances.
"An official caution is a formal warning that may be issued when NRAR has reasonable grounds to determine that a breach has occurred, and the circumstances around the breach are such that a caution is an appropriate response," the spokesperson said.
"It puts the water user on notice and confirms the onus is on the user to comply with water laws."
Winburndale Waters Conservation Group member Michael Inwood, who first raised the issue, hopes the caution will encourage council to take the management of the rivulet more seriously in the future.
"It was numerically impossible that they [council] could've been complying with their conditions, and this official caution only proves our case," Mr Inwood said.
"While we feel this action could've happened sooner, it's a result, and it's now up to council to ensure this doesn't happen again during an extended dry period."
According to council's conditions regarding the use of Winburndale Dam, all general inflows must be released into the valve feeding the rivulet when the dam's below crest level.
Mr Inwood said the conservation group is seeking further information from NRAR regarding their investigation into the matter.
"The breach in conditions has resulted in environmental damage to the rivulet that will take years to repair," he said.