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National Water Account 2017

Ord: Water rights

Water in the region can only be taken from designated water management areas when a licence is issued. Licences to take water for consumptive use are administered by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation. The current licence entitlement is 905,000 ML/year, almost all of which is downstream of Lake Argyle for irrigation supply.


For further information about the region's water rights scroll down this page or click on the links below:


Operating rules and constraints

Control of the abstraction of water is exercised by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation 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 may limit the amount of water which may be abstracted at times of inadequate supply. Restrictions on hydropower, irrigation, and releases for the environment commence when storage levels in Lake Argyle drop below a monthly trigger level. These restriction trigger levels are provided in Chapter 5 of the Ord Surface Water Allocation Plan.

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 m (above Australian Height Datum).

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 Major water reforms in 'Climate and water'). 


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

Under the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914, 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 and Environmental Regulation. Licences usually specify the conditions, length of tenure, and the maximum volume of water that may be abstracted. This volume is referred to as the water entitlement. The department conduct assessments to ensure licensees comply with licence conditions.

The Act has provisions for water abstraction under a riparian right, which is a right to abstract water for specific uses attached to land ownership (e.g., stock and domestic use). It is not itself a 'right to use water'.

A licence to abstract water is not required for the following 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.

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 Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914, 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.

Also under the Act, the Ord Irrigation Cooperative Limited holds a licence for the diversion of 335,000 ML/year from Lake Kununurra. 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.


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 R8 in 'Water legislation').

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation subdivided the plan area into five subareas based on infrastructure and river channel morphology. These subarea boundaries were used by the department to set environmental water provisions and water entitlement limits for the region (Figure R10).

The current annual water entitlements shown in Figure R10 total 905,000 ML/year. More than 95% of these water entitlements are from the Main Ord River and Carlton–Mantinea subareas downstream of Lake Argyle. No water entitlements are granted directly from the Tarrara–Carlton subarea as there is no provision for any developments and the soils and topography are not favourable for irrigation.


Figure R10 Map of annual water entitlements for surface water resource areas of the Ord region
Figure R10 Annual water entitlements for surface water resource areas of the Ord region


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 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 and 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 Act 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 within the irrigation area in accordance with the cooperative's rules, provided both trading 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 above, were in place during the 2016–17 year.