Water rights

Operating rules and constraints

Control of the abstraction of water is exercised by the Department of Water (Western Australia) through allocation planning and 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 to report the amount of water abstracted on a yearly basis.

Ord River licences include a condition that specifies 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 drop to 20% of the full supply level of Lake Argyle.

The release of water for hydroelectricity generation is constrained by a set of operating rules. According to the 1994 Water Supply Agreement for the power station, the station is guaranteed to have enough water released to enable at least 210 gigawatt hours/year to be generated when water levels in Lake Argyle are above 78 mAHD.

Further information on the current release rules for hydroelectricity generation in the region is provided in Chapter 5 of the Ord Surface Water Allocation Plan, including potential modifications to the release rules as irrigation demands on water increase in the next few years (see Water overview). 

Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

Under the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 (Western Australia), 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 licensed water entitlement for the following non-artesian groundwater uses:

  • fire-fighting purposes
  • watering of 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 in place.

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 of Western Australia (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 hydroelectricity 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 335,000 ML/year from Lake Kununurra until March 2014. The licence is issued for the purposes of distribution and supply to irrigators for irrigation use and for nonpotable 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 Surface Water Allocation Plan applies to the Ord River and Tributaries and the Ord Irrigation District surface water management areas (as shown in Figure A1 in Water legislation).

The Department of Water subdivided the plan area into five subareas based on infrastructure and river channel morphology. These subarea boundaries (shown in Chapter 1 of the Ord Surface Water Allocation Plan) were used by the department to set environmental water provisions and water entitlement limits for the region. Current annual water entitlements are shown in Table R1.

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

Surface water

Annual water entitlement 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 has not announced an annual water allocation less than the annual water entitlement.

Groundwater entitlements are also administered by the department. 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 or 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 2012–13 year.