Water rights

Operating rules and constraints

Control of the abstraction of water is exercised by the Department of Water through allocation planning and its surface and groundwater licensing arrangements. Water can only be abstracted from designated surface and groundwater management areas within the region when a licence is issued. Licensees that have a licensed allocation above the minimum threshold of 5 ML per annum are required to have approved meters for the abstraction of water and report the amount of water abstracted on a yearly basis.

Ord River licences include a condition that specifies that the Department of Water may limit the amount of water which may be abstracted at times of inadequate supply. Restrictions on irrigation and releases for the environment commence when storage levels reach 20% of the full supply level of Lake Argyle.

The release of water for hydro-electricity generation is constrained by a set of operating rules. Under the original water supply agreement with the power station operators (1994), the station is guaranteed to have enough water released to enable a minimum of 210 GWh/yr to be generated. The minimum amount is based on the following water levels being maintained in Lake Argyle:

  • in March, the period that historically has the highest storage, 87% of the full supply level
  • in December, the period that historically has the lowest storage, 66% of the full supply level.

When the water level in Lake Argyle is above these levels, electricity generation is only limited by the installed capacity of the power station.

Water entitlements

Under the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914, a licence is required to abstract water in proclaimed surface water and groundwater areas. The Act also requires all artesian bores to be licensed for their construction and the abstraction of water.

Licences to abstract water are administered by the Department of Water. These align with water access entitlements defined for the National Water Account. Licences specify the conditions, length of tenure and volume of water that may be abstracted on an annual basis. The volume is referred to as the annual water entitlement.

The Act has provisions for 'riparian right' use of water that is an incident of land ownership and no licence is required to use water under these provisions. Department-gazetted exemption orders also make exceptions for having to apply for and be granted a licenced water entitlement for the following non-artesian groundwater uses:

  • fire-fighting purposes
  • watering cattle or other stock, other than those being raised under intensive conditions
  • domestic garden and lawn irrigation (not exceeding 0.2 ha)
  • short-term dewatering activities where small volumes of water are abstracted from the water table aquifer (usually for building construction).

Self-supply licensees are entitled to abstract up to the maximum annual amount prescribed in the licence. This volume can be used at the licensee's discretion during the licence year except where restrictions are placed.

Further conditions apply for larger annual water entitlements and are specified in an operating strategy attached to the licence. Implementation of the strategy is a condition of the licence. Operating strategies also describe how the licensee intends to implement the conditions and list commitments that the licensee is to undertake. They are jointly prepared and approved by the licensee and the Department of Water.

Licensees are required to have approved meters for the abstraction of water and are expected to report annually on the amount of water abstracted. The Act has provisions dealing with licensees that abstract more than their annual water entitlement.

Water licences

Under the Act:

  • The Water Corporation holds a licence that regulates its operation of the Ord River Dam and the Kununurra Diversion Dam. While the licence authorises the storage of water and establishes conditions for the release of water from storage, it does not authorise the diversion of water from the Ord River and therefore has a zero annual water entitlement. The licence sets conditions on how water may be released from the storage for hydro-electricity generation and obliges the Water Corporation to operate storage levels so that the environmental water provisions for the lower Ord River are maintained.
  • The Ord Irrigation Cooperative Limited holds a licence for the diversion of an average of 335 GL/yr from Lake Kununurra until March 2014. The licence is issued for the purposes of distribution and supply to irrigators for irrigation use and for non-potable commercial uses, in areas serviced by the Stage 1 channel systems of the district. The annual entitlement includes provision for development of 1,390 ha (gross land area) known as Green location.

Water allocations

The Ord River Water Management Plan (Department of Water, 2006) sets sustainable diversion limits for annual water entitlements from the Ord River. Since 2006, the understanding of the hydrology of the Ord River was updated and comprehensive environmental water requirements developed for the lower Ord River. The Department of Water revised the areas it employs to manage surface water abstraction in the region and additional limits were set for the upper Ord River and Dunham River catchments.

Current annual water entitlement limits and annual entitlements granted as at 2010–11 are shown in Table R1.

Table R1. Annual water entitlement limits for surface water resource areas of the Ord River

Surface water

Annual water entitlement limit


Annual water entitlements granted 2010–11


Percentage of limit (%)

Upper Ord




Main Ord












Dunham River








Annual water allocations are the quantity of water available after environmental water provisions and domestic requirements are met and are determined and announced by the Department of Water in April each year.

To date, the Department of Water has not announced an annual water allocation less than the annual water entitlement.

Groundwater entitlements are also administered by Department of Water. These include allocations for the town supply of Kununurra and Halls Creek.

Trades and water rights transfers

Water market rules: interstate trading

The Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 does not permit interstate trade.

Water market rules: inter-valley and within-valley trading

The Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 permits the trading or transferring of licences, but only within the same water management area and subject to compliance with the other conditions of the Act and other administrative issues. Trades of transfers cannot be made between different water management areas.

Members of the Ord Irrigation Cooperative Limited can trade their water allocations in accordance with the cooperative's rules, provided both parties are members of the cooperative. Members are prevented from trading water directly with parties outside the cooperative.

For more detail please refer to the Ord Irrigation Cooperative Limited website. 

Restrictions on trade

No restrictions on trades or transfers in addition to those described previously were in place during the 2010–11 year.