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National Water Account 2019

Sydney: Water rights

  • Water access licences are granted under the Water Management Act 2000 that specify entitlement, allocation and delivery of water.
  • All entitlements and allocations in the region are managed by the NSW Department of Industry.

For further geographic information about the region scroll down this page or click on the links below:


Operating rules and constraints

  • The NSW Department of Industry manages the entitlements in the Sydney region in accordance with the Water Management Act 2000. Water access licences are registered with the Lands Title Office (NSW), while the NSW Department of Industry manages the day-to-day operation of the entitlements, including the maintenance of allocation accounts.
  • Water access licences issued to major water utilities provide further guidance to the rules established in the Water Sharing Plan for the Greater Metropolitan Region Unregulated River Water Sources 2011.
  • Water restrictions in Sydney Water's management area are authorised by the Minister administering the Sydney Water Act 1994. Water restrictions in other areas are determined and managed by the local urban water utilities. For more information, refer to the Bureau of Meteorology's Water Restrictions website.
  • Water allocation volumes for the Fish River Water Supply Scheme are based on water supply agreements between WaterNSW and its customers; allocations are restricted according to storage level when Oberon Reservoir drops below 50%, and entitlement holders are allowed to carryover their unused allocation up to a maximum of 20% of the maximum annual quantity.
  • Origin Energy holds an entitlement to service interchanges between Lake Yarrunga and Fitzroy Falls reservoir and between Bendeela Pondage and Lake Yarrunga at any time for hydro-power generation, with increases to interchange volume subject to conditions related to high power demand, power system failure, and flow conditions in Yarrunga Creek.


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

  • Water access licences entitle holders to specified shares of available water (a share component), and to take water under specified conditions (an extraction component). These entitlements are separate from land ownership. Licences can be granted as continuing water access licences, or as a specific purpose water access licences which must be cancelled when the purpose for which the licence was issued ceases.
  • The share component of a water access licence is expressed as a unit share of the water available for continuing water access licences, or in megalitres for specific purpose water access licences. The actual quantity of water available to be extracted in any year depends on an available water determination.
  • The extraction component specifies the part of the water source where water may be taken; it may also specify limits on times, rates or circumstances of extraction.
  • Three basic landholder rights to water also exist: domestic and stock rights, native title rights, and harvestable rights. For groundwater, extraction other than under domestic and stock rights requires a licence issued by the Department of Industry.


Water allocations

  • The NSW Department of Industry manages the available water determination process over a 1 July–30 June water year for both surface water and groundwater. The amount of water available for extraction and associated rules (in particular, carryover rules) are outlined in the two water sharing plans for the region.
  • The key elements of announcements for available water determinations are the water source, licence category, announcement type, date or period to which the announcement applies, and the volume announced per share.
  • Priorities for water sharing depend on water access licence/entitlement categories; the environment has first priority, followed by basic rights (domestic and stock rights, harvestable rights and native title rights) and then all other licensed rights.
  • Entitlement holders are able to draw their maximum entitlement volume unless, due to a limited supply of water, authorities announce an 'as needs' basis.
  • No allocations are determined for basic water rights; however, in times of limited supply, restrictions on take for basic rights may be announced.


Trades and water rights transfers

  • Interstate transfer of access licences or interstate assignment of water allocations are prohibited for both surface water and groundwater.
  • Water trading rules are defined in both water sharing plans for the region; however, the required mechanisms for inter-valley trading do not yet exist.
  • Trade between water sources is not permitted.