South East Queensland

Surface water and groundwater

Water legislation

Surface water legislation

The Queensland Government's (2013d) Water Act 2000 (the Water Act) provides the authority for the administration of basic water rights and water entitlements (interim allocations, water licences and water allocations) in Queensland. The Water Act is supported by the Queensland Government's (2013e)  Water Regulation 2002 which provides details on the procedures and fees associated with water access entitlements and trading.

Under section 38 of the Water Act, the relevant minister may prepare a water resource plan (WRP) for any part of Queensland to advance the sustainable management of water. WRPs may be prepared for but are not limited to the purposes listed under section 38(3) of the Water Act.

There are WRPs in place to manage water across the entire South East Queensland (SEQ) region.

The Water Act vests all rights to the use, flow, and control of water in the State of Queensland.

Groundwater legislation

The Water Act legislation, as discussed in 'Surface water legislation' also applies to groundwater. In the Water Act, groundwater is referred to as underground water.

Water management plans

A number of water management instruments, including water resource plans (WRPs), are used in the region. These are described in Table A1.

The South East Queensland (SEQ) region contains three water management areas (WMAs): Gold Coast, Logan Basin, and Moreton. The former Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM)  finalised water resource plans (WRPs) and resource operations plans (ROPs) for each of these three areas.

Within each WRP area, there is a number of water supply schemes (WSSs), as shown in Figure A1, made up of connected water supply infrastructure.

Figure A1 Water supply schemes in the South East Queensland region
Figure A1 Water supply schemes in the South East Queensland region

During the 2011–12 year, DERM monitored the implementation of WRPs throughout the SEQ region. This function was transferred to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines from 30 March 2012. A ROP is used to implement a WRP in specified areas. A resource operations licence (ROL) (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2014) or interim resource operations licence (IROL) (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2014) provides a licence under which water supply infrastructure can be operated.

Water resource plans:

WRPs are used to:

  • detail how the Queensland Government aims to meet the catchments' social, economic, and environmental needs
  • outline environmental flow objectives specific to the plan area
  • consider environmental values and water quality objectives
  • describe water allocation security objectives.
Resource operations plans:

The purpose of ROPs is to:

  • specify information for each regional water supply scheme
  • detail how to operationally meet the WRP's environmental flow objectives and water allocation security objectives
  • describe how the water resources will be managed on a daily basis to meet these needs
  • outline WSS licence holder flow management, infrastructure operating conditions, water sharing, monitoring, and trading rules.
Resource operations licences:

ROLs are used to:

  • provide detail of the licence holder and the ROP to which the licence relates
  • stipulate, if required, the water infrastructure, such as dams and weirs, covered by the licence
  • specify any conditions that the licence holder must comply with, including operating arrangements and water supply requirements.

Seqwater is the ROL holder for all water supply schemes in the SEQ region, with the exception of the Cressbrook Creek WSS, which is held by Toowoomba Regional Council.

Interim resource operations licences:

IROLs are granted in relation to infrastructure in an area where a ROP has not been approved or the infrastructure has not yet been included in a ROP. The purpose of IROLs is:

  • provide detail about the licence holder
  • stipulate, if required, the water infrastructure, such as dams and weirs, covered by the licence
  • specify any conditions that the licence holder must comply with, including operating arrangements and water supply requirements.

WSSs with IROLs located within the Moreton WRP area are to be included within the Moreton ROP in the future, and the IROLs then converted to ROLs.

The water management plans and WSSs in the SEQ region during the 2012–13 year are detailed in Table A1.

Areas not covered by the WSSs are managed as Queensland unsupplemented water rights (which, for national consistency, in the 2013  Account are referred to as 'unregulated water rights') under the Water Act, WRPs and ROPs.

Table A1 Water management plans in the South East Queensland region during the 2012–13 year



Gold Coast WRP 2006 (Queensland Government 2009a)

Gold Coast ROP ( Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013b)

Nerang WSS ROL (Seqwater)
Logan Basin WRP 2007 (Queensland Government 2009b)

Logan Basin ROP (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013c)

Logan River WSS ROL (Seqwater)

Moreton WRP 2007 (Queensland Government 2013c)

Moreton ROP (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013d)

Central Brisbane River and Stanley WSS ROL (Seqwater)
Cressbrook Creek WSS ROL
Pine Valleys WSS ROL (Seqwater)
Central Lockyer WSS IROL (Seqwater)1
Lower Lockyer WSS IROL (Seqwater)2
Warrill Valley WSS IROL (Seqwater)3

1-3 IROLs are not administered under a ROP.

Department of Natural Resources and Mines (2013e) defined unallocated water as 'water in the consumptive pool not allocated to licence holders or needed for losses'. Unallocated water may be held as a general, strategic, or town water supply reserve. Water in a WRP area, if any, is identified in the WRP, and a process for dealing with unallocated water is included in the ROP. 

Groundwater management plans

The following groundwater management areas (GMAs) exist within the SEQ region:

  • Cressbrook Creek Alluvial
  • Lockyer Valley
  • Warrill Bremer Alluvial
  • Watercourse Buffer Zone.

Environmental water management

Environmental water legislation

The Water Act covers water for the environment. WRPs are produced in accordance with the Water Act and must establish environmental flow objectives, ecological outcomes, and consider environmental values listed in the Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009 (Queensland Government 2013f).

Environmental water provisions

The environmental flow objectives in a water resource plan (WRP) area are met through rules governing storage releases and limiting abstractions. Its aim is to retain various temporal flow characteristics at different nodes along rivers. Environmental top-up releases from storages are required to ensure that environmental flow objectives are met. The volume required for release will vary depending upon the environmental flow objectives and flow conditions. Various performance indicators are used for assessing environmental flow objectives as described in the 'Environmental notes'.

More details on specific environmental flow provisions can be found in the WRPs of  Gold Coast, Logan, and Moreton Basins (Queensland Government 2009a, 2009b, 2013c).

Cultural water management

Section 41 of the Water Act (Queensland Government 2013d) requires the establishment of a community reference panel for each water resource plan (WRP) to secure the participation of groups and individuals with cultural, economic, and environmental interests in the basin. Almost all the basins in Queensland have finalised the WRPs in place. Research indicates that no mechanism have been developed for effective Indigenous input into the water planning process; however, traditional water users are protected through the provision of environmental flows, and special protection for water holes of Indigenous significance is covered in some WRPs such as Burnett Basin (Duff et al. 2010). 

The South East Queensland Natural Resource Management Plan 2009–2031 (Department of Environment and Resource Management 2009a) known as SEQ NRM Plan emphasises the recognition of traditional owners as natural resource managers. The SEQ NRM Plan  acknowledges the SEQ Traditional Owner Cultural Resource Management Plan and its targets and actions as an integral element of regional NRM planning.

The South East Queensland Traditional Owners Alliance (SEQTOA), incorporated in late 2005, is the peak body formed by traditional owner cultural groups in SEQ to represent and advance their interests in cultural and natural resource management. The primary aim of SEQTOA is to develop wider engagement of traditional owners in cultural and natural resource management. The traditional owner perspectives of SEQTOA are quoted (Department of Environment and Resource Management 2009b) as:

'Our rivers, creeks, wetlands and seas are powerful places, strong in spirit. They complement our traditional land resources. Their courses show the paths of creation beings. Water is the life sustainer. Wetlands gave our ancestors their main food supplies. Water signifies the female. Many sacred women's places including birthing places are close to running waters. Water is for cleansing and spiritual purification. Traditionally, we put no waste in water. Water is for drinking; by people and by the animals and birds we live among. Water must be kept pure. Traditionally water courses were naturally formed by the water cycle, from rain to wetland, from stream to sea. Now watercourses are changed and directed by engineering.'

Organisations responsible for water management

In 2007, Queensland Government began major water reforms to 'drought-proof' South East Queensland (SEQ). The first stage of the water reform was completed in July 2008, when the Queensland Government centralised SEQ bulk water assets through the establishment of four new Queensland government-owned organisations. During this period, the number of water management and distribution entities was reduced from 21 to 6. These organisations wholesale water to local government water retailers. Organisations responsible for water management in the SEQ region are shown in Table A2.

The 2013 Account reports on the status of water management during the 2012–13 year. Organisational changes that occurred prior to or after the 2012–13 year are reported in the Significant water events section of the account.

Table A2 Organisations responsible for water management in the South East Queensland region 



Major storages operated within the region

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP)

Manages the health of the environment to protect Queensland's unique ecosystems, including its landscapes and waterways, as well as its native plants and animals and biodiversity


Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (DNPRSR)

Manages national park, marine parks, forests, conservation parks, fish habitats, resource reserves and races


Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM)

Manages through regulatory functions for the productive and responsible use of water, land, mineral and energy resources


Department of Energy and Water Supply (DEWS)

Delivers innovative policy, planning and regulatory solutions in partnership with stakeholders to support cost-effective, safe, secure and reliable energy and water supply; it has got two main service areas – energy, and water supply and sewerage services


Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the

Develops and coordinates science and ICT policy, whole-of-government approach on innovation, supports and invests in research and development, builds and diverses arts and cultural sectors


Queensland Water Directorate (Qldwater)

Central advisory and advocacy peak body within Queensland's urban water industry working with members to provide safe, secure and sustainable water services to Queensland communities



Surface water storage manager
Bulk water supplier
Manages the majority of water supply systems (WSSs) in the South East Queensland region
Resource operations licence (ROL) and interim resource operations licence (IROL) holder


Bromelton Off-Stream Storage

Cedar Grove Weir


Gold Creek



Bill Gunn

Lake Kurwongbah

Lake Manchester

Lake Maroon

Lake Moogerah

North Pine



Little Nerang

Mount Crosby Weir

Leslie Harrison


Tarong Energy

Power generator

Splityard Creek

Queensland Urban Utilities

Urban utility: retail


Council of the City of Gold Coast

Urban utility: retail


Logan City Council

Urban utility: retail


Redland City Council

Urban utility: retail



Urban utility: retail


Toowoomba Regional Council

Urban utility: retail
Surface water store manager
Manages Cressbrook Creek WSS
Cressbrook Creek ROL holder



South Burnett Regional Council

Urban utility: retail


Surface water store manager

Organisations managing surface water and groundwater

Seqwater (Seqwater 2013b) is the ROL holder for all but one of the WSSs in the SEQ region. Toowoomba Regional Council is the ROL holder for the Cressbrook Creek WSS. ROL holders manage the surface water infrastructure associated with the WSS, including reservoirs, dams, and weirs within the scheme in accordance with the ROP. ROL holders also administer the announced allocations within the WSS, calculating the announced allocation using the methodology stipulated in the ROP. ROL holders monitor water levels at various points within the WSS to ensure compliance with the ROP requirements. In addition to managing surface water storages within WSS, Seqwater also manages a number of reservoirs, dams, and weirs on watercourses outside of WSS, mainly for the purpose of supplying the SEQ region with water from their unsupplemented licences for urban use.

Organisations managing urban water

Seqwater is a Queensland Government statutory authority responsible for ensuring a safe, secure and reliable bulk drinking water supply for SEQ region, as well as providing essential flood mitigation services (Seqwater 2013c).

Seqwater manages more than $10 billion of water supply assets and the natural catchments of the region's major water supply sources. Six hundered kilometres reverse flow pipeline network enables drinking water to be transported to where it is needed most, from the Sunshine Coast to Greater Brisbane and to Redland and south to the City of Gold Coast.

Seqwater also manages recreation facilities that provide more than 50% of the green space in SEQ outside of national parks.

Seqwater is also now responsible for the long term planning of the region's future water needs, a function that was formerly undertaken by the Queensland Water Commission.

Seqwater has a range of other obligations, such as the management of water quality in accordance with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011.

During the 2012–13 year Seqwater supplied water from the Gold Coast Desalination Plant. The Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme supplied Stanwell Corporation for power generation. 

Queensland Urban Utilities, Unitywater, Council of the City of Gold Coast, Logan City Council, and the Redland City Council manage the water retail operations and also provide wastewater collection and treatment services for the relevant council areas (Figure A2).

Figure A2 Utility service areas in the South East Queensland region
Figure A2 Utility service areas in the South East Queensland region

Some areas of the SEQ region are not connected to the water grid and are instead provided with water and wastewater services by their local councils, such as part of Toowoomba Regional Council, and part of South Burnett Regional Council which receives water from Boondooma Dam located outside SEQ region. Toowoomba Regional Council is also the holder of the ROL for the Cressbrook Creek WSS.