The two prominent north-west New South Wales irrigator families charged over the alleged water theft on the Barwon-Darling, will fight the charges in court.
All five of the accused registered formal not guilty pleas in the Land and Environment Court in Sydney.
The charges against members of the Harris and Barlow families are the first legal actions over water breaches in NSW after the ABC TV Four Corners report investigated farms on the Barwon-Darling almost a year ago.
Husband and wife Peter and Jane Harris, who run cotton operations near Brewarrina, are alleged to have taken water when flow conditions did not permit it, and breaching licence and approval conditions.
Mr Harris had previously indicated to the media that he and his wife would “vigorously defend these allegations” and that they had “always believed we acted in accordance with the conditions of our water access licences”.
Each offence comes with a $247,500 maximum penalty. If they had been charged under the new irrigator laws that passed the NSW Parliament earlier this month, it would have been a maximum $500,500 penalty.
Mungindi farmers Anthony, Margaret, and Frederick Barlow, were charged with the offence of pumping on their property ‘Burren Downs’ near Moree during an embargo.
They are also charged with pumping water while metering equipment was not working.
They face a $247,500 maximum penalty for each offence.
Both trials have been set down for November.