Surface water and groundwater

Water legislation

The Northern Territory Water Act 1992 (the Water Act) is the legislative act that establishes the framework for managing and allocating water resources in the Daly region.

Under the Water Act, all water in the Territory is vested in the Crown. Provisions of the Water Act include:

  • declaring water control districts
  • declaring water allocation plans
  • granting water extraction licences
  • granting waste discharge licences
  • granting bore construction permits.

The Water Act provides the legal framework for the allocation of water to various declared beneficial uses including; agriculture, aquaculture, public water supply, stock and domestic use and industry while ensuring that adequate provisions are made to maintain cultural and environmental water requirements.

The Water Act allows for the declaration of water allocation plans within water control districts, ensuring water is equitably managed to preserve quality of life and the integrity of the water dependent ecosystems in the region.

The Department of Land Resource Management (Northern Territory) assists the Minister with the water resource management powers and functions set out in the Water Act, including:

  • regulating the taking of water from prescribed water management areas; and
  • proclaiming water management areas across the Territory for surface water and groundwater.

Water management plans

The Department of Land Resource Management develops and implements water allocation plans in the Daly region. Water allocation plans are in place for ten years and are reviewed after five years.

They include:

  • the long term sustainable limit of the aquifer;
  • the volume of water that may be abstracted each year for individual and public water supply and environmental, social and cultural benefit;
  • how licence entitlements may be granted; and
  • rules for water trading.

A water allocation plan details the area and water resource to which the plan applies as well as the vision, objectives, strategies and performance indicators of the plan. It also sets limits to the availability of water assigned to each beneficial use, rules for managing licences and the rules for water trading.

There are two water allocations plans which are applicable to the Daly region and are within the Daly Roper Water Control District. The Katherine (Tindall Limestone Aquifer) Water Allocation Plan  was declared in 2009 and is currently the only declared water allocation plan in the region. The Oolloo Aquifer water allocation plan is still in progress.

Environmental water management

Environmental water legislation

Water allocation planning in the Daly region is conducted in accordance with section 22B of the Northern Territory Water Act 1992 (the Water Act).  Under this section, the right to the use, flow and control of the water in watercourses, wetlands and underground water sources is vested in the Crown.

Environmental water provisions

Water control districts can be proclaimed in areas where there is a need for close management of water resources. This is to avoid stressing groundwater reserves, river flows or wetlands. Legislation in water control districts covers all aspects of sustainable water resource management, including the investigation, use, control, protection and allocation of water resources. The Daly region sits in the Daly–Roper water control district. More information on water control districts is available from the Department of Land Resource Management website.

Environmental water provisions are specified in the water allocation plans. Environmental water requirements have been determined at three key locations along the Daly River by Erskine et al (2003), who provides recommendations for the maintenance of minimum streamflows to protect pig-nosed turtles and other aquatic flora and fauna, and to ensure that the water requirements of riparian vegetation can be supplied at times of extreme water stress. All current and future water allocation plans, along with any licensing decisions for ground and surface water extraction within the Daly River catchment, are made to ensure these environmental water requirements are met.

In the absence of known water requirements and specific site locations which are important for Indigenous cultural purposes and recreational activities, the water allocation plan makes the following assumptions:

  • The annual extraction limit which will provide protection to riverine and riparian ecosystems will also maintain water flow to places that are valued by Indigenous people for cultural purposes. These flows are expected to be similar to those which would have occurred without any extraction, as predicted by the model.
  • Despite the subclause above, it is recognised that cultural flow requirements may not align entirely with environmental requirements and any research that becomes available that assists in the identification of cultural flow requirements will be considered as part of the review process of the Oolloo plan, pending its declaration.
  • The annual extraction limit will provide protection to riverine and riparian ecosystems and will also maintain opportunities for recreational activities associated with this water source, including fishing, tourism, swimming, camping and aesthetics.

Cultural water management

The Water Act allows for the specific declaration of the beneficial uses of a water control district. Beneficial uses include agriculture, aquaculture, public water supply, industry and rural stock and domestic. It also includes a cultural beneficial use which is 'water to meet aesthetic, recreational and cultural needs' (Northern Territory Government, n.d.). This can include both Indigenous and non-Indigenous needs.

The Water Act 1992 does not prioritise between the different beneficial uses, and therefore cultural and environmental uses are just one of a number of uses to which water can be allocated.

Water allocations for non-consumptive use, including environmental and other public benefits, are not licensed. The non-consumptive beneficial uses are protected by limiting the allocation to consumptive uses.

Of relevance to the provision of water for cultural purposes is the beneficial use of water for the environment. This is water provided 'to maintain the health of aquatic ecosystems' (Northern Territory Government, n.d.). This is because plan provisions often assume that the cultural beneficial uses will be met by the provision of water for the beneficial use of the environment (Jackson, 2009).

The Figure P1 represents the process for incorporating Indigenous values in water plans in the Northern Territory. This process depends on whether the area is a declared water control district and involves determination of beneficial uses, input from an advisory committee, community consultation and field studies and reports. The overlap between provision of water for environmental and cultural purposes is demonstrated.

Figure P1  Process for incorporating Indigenous values in water plans in the Northern Territory (Duff et.al., 2010)
Figure P1  Process for incorporating Indigenous values in water plans in the Northern Territory (Duff et.al., 2010)


Organisations responsible for water management

There are three main bodies listed under the Water Act 1992 (Northern Territory Water Act) as being responsible for the management of the water resources of the Daly region. These are the:

  • Department of Land Resource Management
  • Power and Water Corporation
  • Department of Mines and Energy.

The Department of Land Resource Management is responsible for drafting and reviewing all water allocation plans in the Daly region, including the draft Oolloo and Tindall limestone plans. This task is undertaken by delegates of the Water Management Team which consists of the:

  • Director, Water Resources Branch
  • Manager, Policy and Planning
  • Manager, Water Assessment
  • Manager, Aquatic Health
  • Manager, Water Monitoring
  • Strategic Water Information Coordinator.

The Controller of Water Resources is delegated under the WaterAct to independently make allocation and restriction determinations and announcements and to work closely with other areas within the water resources branch to ensure timely and efficient implementation of operational water resource administration.

The Power and Water Corporation is the main body responsible for providing water and sewerage services to the Northern Territory.

The Department of Mines and Energy is responsible for administering water use by enforcing and assessing compliance with mine management plans and administering discharge licences for industry.