South East Queensland
Water rights

Operating rules and constraints

Surface water operating rules and constraints

The Gold Coast (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013b), Logan Basin (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013c), and Moreton (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013d) resource operations plans (ROPs) list the operating rules for each water supply scheme (WSS), including

  • the environmental management rules
  • infrastructure operating levels
  • quality of water released from storages
  • the change in rate of release from infrastructure
  • the stream flow requirements
  • the water sharing rules.
Groundwater operating rules and constraints

Groundwater resources within the South East Queensland (SEQ) region have become more developed during the last decade. Groundwater within the Lockyer Valley, Warrill Bremer Alluvial, and Cressbrook Alluvial is now managed as groundwater management areas (GMAs) under the Moreton water resource plan.

In response to combat drought, a moratorium was introduced in 2007 that banned drilling of new groundwater bores in Toowoomba and parts of Brisbane to protect the Brisbane aquifer project that would supplement water supplies with 20 megalitres a day from groundwater. 

To maintain efficient use of water and long-term quality, groundwater management areas (GMA) with operating rules are being implemented as the groundwater resources within the region are further developed in the future.

Urban operating rules and constraints

In 2008, new water restriction rules (Bureau of Meteorology 2013a) were introduced for use across all councils in the SEQ region. The water restriction levels are high, medium, low, and permanent water conservation measures.

The Queensland Water Commission has managed decisions about water restrictions across the SEQ region since these new water restriction levels were implemented.

Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

In Queensland, the primary statutory legislation is the Queensland Water Act 2000 (the Water Act). Under the Water Act, authorisation to abstract water is generally via either:

  • a statutory authorisation: the Water Act allows taking water for certain purposes or uses (e.g. riparian landholder watering of stock or for domestic purposes) without an entitlement
  • a water entitlement: there are various types of licences or authorities to abstract water under the Water Act, each with different conditions attached to them.

The Water Act recognises two distinct categories of water access entitlement:

  • supplemented access to water within a water supply scheme
  • unsupplemented access to water in a river or from groundwater.

Supplemented and unsupplemented water access entitlements are managed and administered separately. For the purpose of the 2013 Account, the term 'supplemented' was equated to 'regulated' and the term 'unsupplemented' equated to 'unregulated'. These are legislative terms and may not precisely match the definitions used in the 2013 Account for 'regulated' and 'unregulated' (see Glossary). The following table shows the terminology used in Queensland for water management and the equivalent term in the National Water Account.

Comparison of 2013 Account and Queensland terminology
2013 Account
Equivalent Queensland terminology
water access entitlement water allocation
interim water allocation
water licence
water allocation announced allocation
regulated supplemented
unregulated unsupplemented
entitlement trade allocation trade
allocation trade seasonal water assignments
security priority

The annual volume able to be abstracted under a supplemented water entitlement will vary from year to year, and is referred to as an 'announced allocation'. The announced allocation is based on the sharing rules and formulae noted in the ROP for the WSSs, and the availability of water within the WSS.

The announced allocation percentage varies between priority groups and between WSSs, and is announced on the first day of the water year by the resource operation licence holders. If an announced allocation percentage is initially below 100%, subsequent announcements may be made to increase the percentage. The percentage cannot be reduced during a water year and once the announced allocation percentage reaches 100%, no further increases to the limit can occur.

Types of water access entitlements

The Water Act recognises three types of water access entitlement: water allocations, interim water allocations, and water licences.

Water allocations: these entitlements define the holder's share of the water resource not attached to land and can be traded within the trading rules in the relevant plan. Water allocations do not expire. They may comprise a volumetric maximum rate of abstraction, nominal volume (representing the share of the available resource), volumetric limit (entitlement volume limit), flow conditions and other access conditions. The conversion of interim water allocations into water allocations occurs through the water planning process. Most of these conversions have already taken place in Queensland. Due to the 2013 Account having a different definition of water allocation to Queensland, when the Queensland term is used throughout the 2013 Account it will be referred to as 'Water allocation (Water entitlement)'.

Interim water allocations: these entitlements define the holder's share of the water resource, do attach to land and can not be traded unless specified in the Queensland Water Regulation 2002 (the Water Regulation). Interim water allocations do not expire. They may comprise a volumetric limit, flow conditions and other access conditions. The conversion of interim water allocations into water allocations occurs through the water planning process. Most of these conversions have already taken place in Queensland.

Water licences: these entitlements attach to land and are for a fixed period of time, usually between five and ten years. Conditions are attached to these licences, which may include flow conditions, maximum rates of abstraction, maximum pump sizes, storage conditions, or any other conditions that may be applied. Licences are assigned to a specific location and are generally not tradable. Through the water planning process, water licences of this type are progressively converted into water allocations. 

Water allocations

In the South East Queensland region, at the start of a water year, a limit is announced against an entitlement and is expressed as a percentage. This is used to determine the maximum volume of water that may be abstracted by a water rights holder in a water year. Additional announcements may be made during the year if additional water becomes available. Urban holders of regulated entitlements have the same announced limit applied to their entitlement as other regulated entitlement holders of the same priority entitlements. In general a water year is from 1 July–30 June unless otherwise specified in the resource operations plan (ROP) or interim ROP (e.g. the Lower Lockyer water supply scheme (WSS) water year is from 1 April–31 March).

Announced allocations are published on the WSS operator's website.

Trades and water rights transfers

Water market rules: interstate trading

There is no interstate trading between the South East Queensland region and New South Wales. More information on trading during the 2012–13 year can be found in the  Water rights, entitlements, allocations and restrictions note.

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

Regulated water access entitlements (called 'water allocations' using Queensland terminology) in Queensland are separate from land rights, and are tradeable and registered on the Water Allocation Register. This register is managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM). There are currently markets for surface water rights trade only, but markets for groundwater rights trade may be developed in the future.

Following the release of the Gold Coast, Logan, and Moreton resource operations plans (ROPs) in 2009, the trading of water allocations commenced in the South East Queensland (SEQ). Rules covering trade of regulated water access entitlements (permanent trades, called 'water allocation trade' using Queensland terminology) can be found in chapter 5, part 2 of the Gold Coast and Logan ROPs and in chapters 5, 6 and 7, part 2 of the Moreton ROP.

The rules for water allocation trading (temporary trades, called 'seasonal water assignment' using Queensland terminology) are detailed in the Water Regulation 2002, and the relevant ROP and interim resource operation licence (Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2013f).

Both entitlement trade and allocation trading occurred within the SEQ region during the 2012–13 year. Information on water rights trading in the SEQ region during the 2012–13 year can be found in the water market activity note.

There was no trade between the SEQ region and any other part of Queensland during the 2012–13 year.

Restrictions on trade

No restrictions on trade other than the rules listed in the Gold Coast, Logan, and Moreton resource opearions plans exist. The rules specify geographic limits for trading that ensure water allocation security objectives and environmental flow objectives are achieved.