Water management

  • Management of surface water and groundwater resources in the Canberra region is governed by the Water Resources Act 2007 (ACT) and Water Management Act 2000 (NSW).
  • The region is divided into 14 water management areas.
  • The ACT Government manages the areas within the ACT boundary while the NSW Government manages those outside the ACT boundary.


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


Surface water and groundwater management

Water legislation

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

  • The Water Resources Act 2007 (ACT) provides for the management of surface water and groundwater resources within the ACT through the issuing of water access entitlements and water licences.
  • The Territory Plan 2008 provides the policy framework for the administration of planning in the ACT. It also details the management policies for environmental values in every catchment and serves as an umbrella document for the 2013 Environmental flow guidelines.
  • The ACT Water Strategy 2014–44: Striking the Balance (ACT Water Strategy) guides management of the Territory’s water supply, management, and catchment practices over the next 30 years.
  • Lake Burley Griffin is an Australian Government responsibility and is administered by the National Capital Authority in accordance with the Lakes Ordinance 1976.

New South Wales (NSW)


Water management plans


  • The region is divided into 14 water management areas (WMAs), with 32 subcatchment areas within the WMAs.
  • WMAs in the ACT are consistent with the planning framework of the Territory Plan 2008.  The ACT Government manages the WMAs that fall within the ACT boundary. The NSW Government manages the sections outside the ACT boundary.


Figure R10 Water management areas in the Canberra region
Figure R9 Water management areas in the Canberra region


  • WMAs in the ACT cover both surface water and groundwater resources. Within each WMA, maximum surface water plus groundwater abstractions are set.
  • The management of each WMA is dictated by the primary environmental value of the subcatchments within that WMA. Subcatchments within the ACT WMAs are assigned one of three potential primary environmental values: conservation; water supply; and drainage and open space.
  • The management policies for each type of catchment are detailed in section 11.8 of the Territory Plan 2008.



  • The Water Sharing Plan for the Murrumbidgee Unregulated and Alluvial Water Sources 2012 (New South Wales Office of Water 2012b) provides detailed information on granting and managing access licences: 'Part 7 Rules for granting access licences' and 'Part 8 Rules for managing access licences'.


Environmental water management

Environmental water legislation


  • Environmental water within the region is managed by the ACT Government's Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate.
  • The Water Resources Act 2007 provides for the identification and management of water for ecosystems, which are identified in the 2013 Environmental flow guidelines
  • Environmental water in the Canberra region is delivered in two ways:  releases from storages and  restrictions on the volume of water that can be abstracted from a catchment (National Water Commission 2011).


  • The Water Management Act 2000 recognises the following classes of environmental water: environmental health water, supplementary environmental water and adaptive environmental water.
  • For groundwater, planned environmental water is derived from the average annual rainfall recharge volumes and storage volumes as described in the Water Sharing Plan for the NSW Murray–Darling Basin Porous Rock Groundwater Sources ( New South Wales Office of Water 2012a ).


Environmental water provisions


  • Environmental water provisions are the responsibility of the relevant ACT minister and are administered and managed through the ACT Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
  • The 2013 Environmental flow guidelines is the primary document which outlines environmental water provisions in the ACT. The purpose of the guidelines is to identify the components of flow from the variable flow regime that are necessary to maintain stream health.
  • The 2013 Environmental flow guidelines categorise each of the 14 WMAs and 32 subcatchments as one of four possible aquatic ecosystem types and assigns each an environmental management goal. The guidelines also identify four components of environmental flow to be maintained within these ecosystem types (see Environmental benefit note for more details).


  • Section 8 of the Water Management Act 2000 defines the environmental water requirements in NSW. In addition, the Department of Industry recognises that a significant number of water access licences are purchased and/or held for an environmental purpose. This type of licensed environmental water is described in the Environmental Water Register as having a 'non-statutory' environmental purpose. A licence is classified as having a 'non-statutory' environmental purpose by agreement between Department of Industry and the holder of the respective licence.
  • The Environmental Water Register provides a record of: licensed environmental water information, environmental water set aside as 'rules' in water sharing plans and environmental water use plans approved by the Minister.
  • The Environmental Water Register provides reports on: the assignment of water allocations to and from adaptive environmental water access licences and changes in the share component of adaptive environmental water access licences over time. 


Cultural water management

  • The Aboriginal Water Initiative was established in June 2012 to improve Aboriginal involvement and representation in water planning and management within NSW.
  • The Department of Industry monitor the success of water sharing plans in meeting their statutory requirements for Aboriginal- specific performance indicators, including: providing water for native title rights and recognising spiritual, social, customary and economic values of water to Aboriginal people.
  • The Ngunnawal people are the Traditional Custodians of the Canberra region. Neighbouring regions include the Ngarigo, Wolgalu, Gundungurra, Yuin and Wiradjuri people.
  • River corridors play an important role in travel routes, and provide varied flora and fauna which are readily available food sources. Access to rivers is important in ensuring knowledge of Country, dreaming and future land management is passed down to younger generations.
  • One of the actions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government's Water Strategy 2014-44 is to "Ensure that indigenous and other cultural values are recognised in managing water planning and use", addressing the strategic objective to 'engage the community on understanding and contributing to a more sustainable city.'
  • For further information refer to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage of the ACT- Ngunnawal Country (Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (ACT) 2010) and ACT Water Strategy 2014-44: Striking the Balance (Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (ACT) 2014).


Organisations responsible for water management

  • Organisations responsible for water management within the Canberra region are shown below.


Table R2 Organisations responsible for water management in the Canberra region during the 2013–17 period
OrganisationResponsibilityMajor storages operated within the region
ACT Government, Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) – formerly ACT Government, Environmental and Planning Directorate (EPD)
  • manages ACT water resources
  • approves water trades within and outside the ACT
  • grants water entitlements
  • manages and monitors environmental flows.
Icon Water (formerly ACTEW Water)
  • manages urban water supply
  • manages and maintains water supply infrastructure
  • operates water distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, and wastewater recycling infrastructure operator.
  • Corin Reservoir
  • Cotter Reservoir
  • Bendora Reservoir
  • Googong Reservoir
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage
  • manages the environment
  • manages water quality, water pollution and water treatment
  • conserves and manages wetlands
  • secures water for the environment.
Department of Industry (formerly DPI Water / NSW Office of Water)
  • sets policy and necessary legal instruments and oversees mechanisms to manage water within NSW.
ACT Government, Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS)
  • plans and manages ACT's parks, reserves, forestry plantations, and public domains.
  • Lake Ginninderra
  • Lake Tuggeranong
Environmental Protection Authority (ACT)n/a
National Capital Authority
  • manages Lake Burley Griffin.
  • Lake Burley Griffin
Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (formerly Queanbeyan City Council and Palerang Council)
  • distributes urban water in Queanbeyan and Captains Flat regions.