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National Water Account 2015

Burdekin: Water rights

Spillway at the Burdekin Falls Dam, North Queensland © CSIRO

Operating rules and constraints

Control of the abstraction of water is exercised by Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines through allocation planning and water licensing arrangements. Water can only be abstracted from designated areas within the region when a licence is issued.

There are two types of surface water licences issued in the Burdekin region: resource operations licences (ROLs) and distribution operations licences (DOLs). The holders of either of these licences must comply with the supply and operating requirements contained in the ROP.

In the Burdekin region, SunWater is the ROL holder for the two water supply schemes, Burdekin Haughton and Bowen Broken. The North Burdekin and South Burdekin water boards are the joint DOL holders for the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme. The water infrastructure that SunWater and the Burdekin Water boards are responsible for are outlined in the Burdekin Basin ROP.

The Burdekin GMA water–sharing rules are the rules prescribed under the Water Regulation 2002 for a water licence not managed under a resource operation plan. The water–sharing rules describe the arrangements under which the access to underground water within the Burdekin GMA is managed. The Burdekin water-sharing rules apply to all underground water taken from the Burdekin GMA other than for stock and domestic purposes or a prescribed activity. The water–sharing rules also outline seasonal water assignment rules for the area.


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

In Queensland, the primary statutory legislation is the Water Act 2000. 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; or
  • 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:

  • regulated (or 'supplemented') access to water within a water supply scheme managed via dams and distribution systems; and
  • unregulated (or 'unsupplemented') access to water in a natural river or aquifer system

Supplemented and unsupplemented water access entitlements are prioritised, managed, and administered separately. 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 described in the Burdekin Basin ROP, and the availability of water within the water supply scheme.


Water allocations

In the Burdekin region, annual water allocations are provided for individual users and water supply schemes. These allocations are announced on the first day of the water year by the ROL holder (SunWater) and apply to supplemented (regulated) water access entitlement holders only. The annual allocation announcement is expressed as a percentage and represents the maximum volume of water that may be abstracted by a water rights holder during the year. Additional announcements may be made during the year if additional water becomes available. For example, 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.

Urban licence holders of regulated (supplemented) entitlements will have the same percentage allocation announcement applied to their entitlement as other regulated licence holders of the same priority entitlements. In the Burdekin region, the water year for licence holders is generally 1 July to 30 June unless otherwise specified in the ROP.

Other management methodologies apply to unsupplemented (unregulated) water entitlements.


Trades and water rights transfers

There are three active water markets in Queensland: water allocations, seasonal water assignments and relocatable water licences. The water allocation market concerns the trading of regulated water access entitlements; the seasonal water assignment market deals with the seasonal (temporary) assignment of water allocations and other entitlements; and the relocatable market concerns the relocation of water licences from one parcel of land to another.

Currently the Burdekin region only conducts trade that involves surface water but markets for groundwater trading may be developed in the future.


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

Regulated water access entitlements in Queensland are separate from land rights, and are tradeable and registered on the Department of Natural Resources and Mines water allocation register. Currently in most of Queensland's water markets only surface water allocations can be permanently transferred; in the future, the water market may be further expanded to allow for the permanent transfer of groundwater access entitlements, as is now the case in the Burnett and Fitzroy ROP areas. From time to time regulations may also allow for the permanent transfer of interim water access entitlements, in particular water supply schemes.

The rules for water allocation trading (temporary trades referred to as 'seasonal water assignment') are detailed in the Water Regulation 2002, the Burdekin Basin ROP, and the water–sharing policy for the Burdekin GMA.

Both entitlement and allocation trading occurred within the Burdekin region during the 2014–15 year. Information on water rights trading in the Burdekin Basin region during the 2014–15 year can be found in the Water market activity note.

There was no trade between the Burdekin region and any other part of Queensland during the 2014–15 year. More information on water markets in Queensland is available on the Department of Natural Resources and Mines website.


Restrictions on trade

No restrictions on trade other than the rules listed in the Burdekin Basin ROP exist.