Water thief fined $60,000

A HILLSTON farmer was fined almost $60,000 at Griffith Local Court last week after he was caught taking water when the meter was not working.

Brendan Hipwell, 52, faced eight charges including intentionally/negligently taking water when the meter was not working and intentionally not ascertaining the meter was working. 

The NSW Office of Water has welcomed the conviction and fine imposed on the irrigator in the Griffith Local Court. 

Magistrate Shane McAnulty found the irrigator guilty of the eight separate charges brought against him by the NSW government, imposing fines of $32,000 and costs of $26,000.

In his comments, Magistrate McAnulty noted that “Parliament intended that the fines for breaches of the Water Management Act 2000 be significant”, and, “a significant fine would be ordered to deter others.” 

Mr Hipwell had taken water without a functioning water meter over a period of many months in 2011. 

NSW Water Commissioner David Harriss said this deliberate action had the potential to impact on local water users, including the town water supply and the environment, by reducing the volume of water available in the Hillston area. 

Mr Harriss said Mr Hipwell took the water during the worst drought on record, when surface water allocations were very low. “When a licence is issued it’s a matter of trust for holders to comply with the conditions of the licence, and that includes metering the water used,” Mr Harriss said.

“The ruling shows that the community will no longer tolerate illegal water-related activities in New South Wales.” 

According to the legislation, the maximum penalty for a corporation for this offence is $1.1 million and for an individual $247,500. 

“The NSW Office of Water takes all allegations of water breaches seriously and will not hesitate to bring cases to court when warranted,” Mr Harriss said. 

Anyone wishing to report suspected illegal water activities can email watercompliance@water .nsw.gov.au or calling 1800 633 362.

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