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National Water Account 2020

Daly: Region description

  • The Daly region is highly groundwater dependent, and one of the few perennial river systems in northern Australia.
  • The rivers are very important for environmental, cultural and recreational purposes.
  • Water in the region is primarily used for agricultural purposes.

Daly region map. Water use: 0.2% of Australia’s water use. Land use: 50% of the region used for grazing. Ecosystems: 3 important wetlands with strong cultural significance. Water resources: 80% sourced from groundwater.

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


Geographic information

Daly River, Northern Territory (Bureau of Meteorology © Bradley Wood)


General description

Area: 53,708 km²
Population: 12,000 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016)


Map of key water features. Towns include Katherine in the centre of the region, Pine Creek in the north and Daly River in the northwest. Conservation areas include Nitmiluk National Park and part of Kakadu National Park in the region's northeast. Smaller nature reserves are located in central and northern parts of the region.
Figure R1 Contextual map of the Daly region


  • The Daly region is located in northern Australia and is physically defined by the Daly River surface water catchment.
  • Aquifers discharge into many of the rivers within the region, providing dry season flow for parts of the river system. Consequently, these rivers have strong environmental, cultural, and recreational significance.
  • Only 0.2% of Australia's water use occurs in the region. Most of the water use is from groundwater stores for agricultural purposes.


Land use


Table R1 Major land use activities in the Daly region
Land use activityArea (km 2 )Total area (%)
Conservation and natural environments21,79441
Dryland agriculture1,3432
Irrigated agriculture99<1
Other intensive uses79<0.1
Total 53,710


  • More than 50% of the region is for pastoralism, primarily beef cattle grazing.
  • 41% of the region contains conservation areas, including nature reserves and national parks.
  • Katherine is the regional centre; other towns include Pine Creek and Daly River (Nauiyu).


Significant aquatic ecosystems

Map of significant wetlands. The nationally important wetlands are Katherine Gorge in the regions' northeast, Daly-Reynolds Floodplain-Estuary System in the northwest around the mouth of the Daly River and Daly River Middle Reaches on the Daly River upstream of the coastal floodplain. The southern-most part of the Ramsar-listed Kakadu National Park is in the region's northeast, upstream of Katherine Gorge.
Figure R2 Significant wetlands in the Daly region


  • The region contains three important wetlands as identified by the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields Project (NRETAS 2010).
  • Each of these wetlands is home to a variety of aquatic and birdlife, providing dry season refuge for waterbirds including magpie geese, herons, and allies.
  • The southern part of Kakadu National Park, which lies within the Daly region, is a Ramsar site.


Significant Indigenous cultural places and practices

  • There are at least 12 discrete groups of Aboriginal people within the Daly region. For Aboriginal people in the region, water is a sacred and elemental source and a symbol of life (Langton 2006).
  • The quality of water as 'living' or as having 'life-giving' qualities is conveyed through Dreamtime stories. In Wardaman mythology, the creative powers of the Rainbow Serpent are responsible for the waterscapes of the country. They are believed to be the drivers of the hydrological cycle and bringer of the monsoon floods (Cooper and Jackson 2008).
  • Many of the sacred sites in the Daly River region are associated with rivers, tributaries, and groundwater-dependent ecosystems; the Daly River itself is a significant ceremonial track. Sacred sites are landscape features 'created either by the metamorphosis of Dreamtime figures into rocks, boulders, trees, etc., or by the action of such an ancestor, or ancestors, sometimes when interacting with each other' (Northern Land Council 2004).
  • Aboriginal people have common-law rights to maintain customary use and access to places and resources, including water.


Water resources

  • Surface water (rivers) and groundwater are the primary water resources in the Daly region. Both water resources are used to support the main water users in the region and are strongly interconnected.



Map of the four key groundwater aquifers. Tindall Limestone Aquifer, the largest, extends from the region's northwest to beyond the southeastern boundary. Jinduckin Formation, above the Tindall Limestone Aquifer, extends from the northwest to the eastern boundary. Oolloo Dolostone Aquifer is in the central part of the region. Florina Formation, the smallest, is the uppermost aquifer in the central part of the region.
Figure R3 Groundwater aquifers in the Daly region


Simplified three-dimensional cross-section of groundwater aquifers. There are four layered geographical formations below the main channel of the Daly River. Florina Formation, the smallest, is the uppermost layer, followed by Oolloo Dolostone Aquifer, followed by Jinduckin Formation, then Tindall Limestone Aquifer, the largest and deepest, which sits above a basalt layer.
Figure R4 Cross-section diagram of groundwater aquifers in the Daly region


  • Underlying the Daly River surface water catchment are the Daly basin aquifers, made up of four layered geological formations.
  • The Oolloo Dolostone and Tindall Limestone aquifers are substantially fractured and cavernous. Large volumes of water can be stored within these formations and water flows relatively easily through them, resulting in the potential to extract water from these aquifers at high rates.
  • The Tindall Limestone Aquifer is confined by the Jinduckin and Oolloo Dolostone formations as water does not infiltrate through them to the Tindall Limestone Aquifer. Recharge to the Tindall Limestone Aquifer only occurs in areas where it is in direct contact with the ground surface (e.g., near Katherine).
  • The Jinduckin Formation is made up of siltstone, which is largely impermeable to water. The upper most aquifer is the Florina Formation and is the youngest and smallest of the four.
  • There are also several smaller, local, low-yielding aquifers in the region, where water is mainly used for stock and domestic use.


Surface water

  • The Daly River and its tributaries form one of the Northern Territory's larger river systems and one of the few in northern Australia to have perennial flow.
  • The Daly River discharges into the Timor Sea in the northwest of the region; the main tributary of the Daly River is the Katherine River.


Map of key gauging stations. Katherine River at the Railway Bridge, station number G8140001, in the central part of the region near Katherine. Daly River at Mount Nancar, station number G8140040, in the region's northwest near Nauiyu.
Figure R5 Gauging stations along the Katherine and Daly rivers within the Daly region


Graph of mean monthly flows along the Katherine and Daly rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Daly region
Figure R6 Mean monthly flows along the Katherine and Daly rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Daly region


  • Seasonal flow characteristics of rivers within the Daly region reflect the annual rainfall pattern of the region. Most of the rainfall occurs during the wet season (November–April). Consequently, most of the streamflow within the region occurs between January and May.
  • Dry season flow in these rivers is mostly dominated by input of groundwater from the two underlying aquifers—Tindall Limestone and Oolloo Dolostone (see Figure R3 above)—which have an intervening siltstone aquitard. The perennial rivers of the region support endemic wildlife, irrigation development, and domestic and stock use, and are of high cultural value.


  • Copperfield Dam is the region's largest surface water storage and is used for public water supply to the nearby town of Pine Creek.
  • There are also two weirs upstream of the town of Katherine on the Katherine River: Knott's Crossing and Donkey Camp Pool. These weirs were developed for surface water supply to Katherine.


Water management

Katherine Gorge, Daly region (NT Tourism © Shaana McNaught)


Surface water and groundwater management

Water legislation

  • The Northern Territory Water Act 1992 establishes the framework for managing and allocating water resources in the Daly region.
  • The Act provides the legal framework for the allocation of water to various declared beneficial uses including agriculture, aquaculture, public water supply, stock and domestic use, and industry, while ensuring that adequate provisions are made to maintain cultural and environmental water requirements.
  • The Department of Environment and Natural Resources assists the Minister with the functions set out in the Act, including proclaiming water management areas and regulating the taking of water from these areas.


Water allocation plans

  • The Department of Environment and Natural Resources develops and implements water allocation plans in the Daly region, which set out how the department allocates and licences water in the region to manage the demands of agriculture, public water supply and other consumptive use.
  • The plans recognise the area's significant environmental and cultural values, and ensures that sufficient water is retained to protect aquatic ecosystems and meet cultural needs.


Map of two water allocation plan areas. The Katherine Tindall Limestone Aquifer water allocation plan area is in the central part of the region covering a part of the Tindall Limestone Aquifer around Katherine. The Oolloo Dolostone Aquifer water allocation plan area extends across the central and northern part of the region and covers the entire Oolloo Dolstone Aquifer
Figure R7 Water allocation plan areas in the Daly region



Environmental water management


Cultural water management

  • The Daly River region is highly significant to the Aboriginal people and their way of life. Many sacred sites have been recorded along the Daly River and its tributaries, and many traditional practices continue to this day.
  • The interests of Aboriginal people in water planning are represented by their participation in water-planning processes, such as the Daly River Management Advisory Committee, and through studies and assessments that are used to inform the development of water plans.
  • The water allocation plans for the Daly region recognise Aboriginal rights and interests in water and provide for Aboriginal interests through measures to limit extraction of groundwater.
  • A more detailed description of the cultural water provisions for the region is provided in the Katherine Tindall Limestone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan and the Oolloo Dolostone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan.


Organisations responsible for water management


Water rights

Crocodile, Northern Territory (iStock © sburel)


Operating rules and constraints

  • The Department of Environment and Natural Resources controls the taking of water through water allocation planning and licensing arrangements. Water can only be taken from designated water management areas within the region when a licence is issued.
  • Under the Katherine Tindall Limestone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan and the Oolloo Dolostone Aquifer Water Allocation Plan, the maximum annual volume of water available from these sources varies depending on the flow in the Katherine and Daly rivers. The extraction limits are advised on an annual basis to all licence holders.
  • For more information on operating rules, see Water Licensing and Permits on the Northern Territory Government website.


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

  • The Department of Environment and Natural Resources administers water licences that specify the conditions, length of tenure, and volume of water that may be taken on an annual basis, referred to as the 'annual water entitlement'.
  • Under the Water Act 1992, no licence is required for the 'riparian right' use of water that is an incident of land ownership. The Act also exempts small-scale rural stock and domestic and other small volume groundwater uses from requiring a licensed water entitlement.


Water allocations

  • Annual water allocations represent the quantity of water available after environmental water provision and domestic requirements are met and are determined and announced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources before 1 May each year.
  • The Tindall Limestone and the draft Oolloo Dolostone water allocation plans set down extraction limits for entitlements from the respective aquifers. These limits are updated annually.
  • The announced allocation is a percentage of the maximum annual entitlement prescribed in the licence. Licensees are entitled to take the full allocation amount, but must adhere to monthly limits during the year.
  • For current annual allocations, see the Water use section in 'Supporting information'.


Trades and water rights transfers