Private Tasmanian hydro scheme under review after campaign by neighbouring farms
A family-owned hydro electric scheme accused of flooding properties in Tasmania's north-west is being investigated by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. 
It follows nearly three years of complaints from a group of landowners in the tiny rural town of Nietta, near Ulverstone. 
They allege their farms have been flooded for seven months of the year, every year since 2018, and attribute the flooding to a private energy company, Nietta Hydro.
The farmers have called for an immediate suspension of the scheme, saying it has rendered vast swathes of their land unusable, cost them thousands of dollars in lost income, and damaged the environment.
Nietta Hydro is a one-megawatt power facility in Tasmania's north-west, owned by the Miles family. 
The scheme, which can power 800 homes, draws water from a dam on the Castra Rivulet through an on-farm hydro station before releasing it back into the same creek.
It was opened in 2014 by then-member for Braddon Brett Whiteley who labelled it a "Tasmanian success story".
In 2016, the project was given a licence to expand when the Department for Natural Resources and the Environment allocated an additional 5.9 megalitres of water from another waterway, Jean Brook, to be released into the Castra Rivulet.
The extra allocation was roughly equivalent to 2,360 Olympic swimming pools, or about 1.1 per cent of Sydney Harbour.
Farmer John Flannery started running beef on his property in 2014.
He said he used to have no issue walking his cattle down to the Castra Rivulet, which runs through the middle of his farm. 
"Since the pumping has been occurring, the area has become wetter and wetter," Mr Flannery said.
"It's become incredibly muddy … you just become bogged in it.
"With the inundation of all this pumping, it's softened the soil. And the fence has basically been sinking down into the mud."
Mr Flannery said half his property had become unusable since the extra water began being pumped in 2018 thanks to soggy ground and the spread of an aquatic weed commonly known as 'sweet grass'.
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"Initially we thought, when we first discovered the pumping, that perhaps it would dry out during the non-pumping part of the season, " Mr Flannery said. 
"Pumping is normally from May to November. But as the years have gone on this water logging seems to remain, it doesn't seem to drain."
Neighbour Donald Bonney bought his property in 2019.
His farm is also bisected by the Castra Rivulet, which he said was once surrounded by myrtle and sassafras trees that were "up to 150 years old".
"They're progressively dying further aback all the time," he said, looking at a series of large, skeletal tree trunks.
"There's about five or six hectares of pasture land that is completely waterlogged.
"It's totally wrong. I knew that water was pumped through here, but I didn't realise the significance of the damage it would cause."
Mr Bonney was the first to lodge a complaint with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in September 2020, triggering the first of many phone calls, letters and in-person conversations.
That was shortly followed by a joint letter from Mr Bonney, Mr Flannery, a forestry company and another farmer, who requested anonymity. 
Issues raised included flooding, vegetation dieback, weed growth and degradation of land across five properties, with the group calling for a review of Nietta Hydro's operations.
In further correspondence including intervention from the ombudsman, the farmers also alleged multiple breaches of the scheme's licence conditions, including that no completion of works had ever been registered for the scheme's offtake dam.
A departmental spokesperson said documents provided to the department indicated Nietta Hydro had reduced the volume of water it was transferring, from a maximum of 5.9 gigalitres to 1.27 gigalitres in 2022.
The spokesperson said further complaints from the landowners were received in 2021, but "no evidence of this flooding" had been supplied and changes to water licenses could only be made if impacts were directly linked to the hydro scheme.
"To achieve this, the department committed to undertake field inspections at the site over a two-year period," they said.
They did not respond when asked if it the use of an unregistered dam was appropriate.
Mr Bonney was not impressed.
"Anybody with anything between their ears, they can see as soon as they get here that if you add 800 litres per second of water to this area that it's going to flood," he claimed.
Nietta Hydro owner Casey Miles said he had responded to every allegation passed on to him by the department but had not been provided with any evidence of damage. 
"Nothing has been sent to me, no photos, nothing," he said.
"I've only ever pumped up to half my water allocation. At the end of the day, I've got approval to do all this."
He said he had not been notified that his dam was not fully registered as complete, but was willing to cooperate.
"I want this scheme to be fully compliant, I want to do the right thing."
Former scientist John Thompson has been working as a spokesperson for the group of landowners, and said they believed the water should never have been allocated in the first place.
"[The department] awarded the water allocation without any conditions to prevent the flooding of their properties and it was all based on a dodgy Hydro Tasmania hydrology report," he said.
"It's a licence to flood."
After three years of back and forth, the landowners made a "last ditch" effort in June to persuade the department to suspend the scheme and engaged an interstate hydrologist to examine data collected by Mr Thompson.
"Any reasonable person would know why their properties are flooded seven months of the year," Mr Thompson said.
The department spokesperson confirmed it had received the hydrologist's report and that it was currently under review.
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