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National Water Account 2020

Fitzroy: Geographic information

  • The Fitzroy region is one of Australia's larger surface water catchments.
  • The Fitzroy is the largest catchment to drain into the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Lagoon.
  • Surface water is the main water resource in the region and is primarily used for agricultural purposes.

Fitzroy region map. Water use: 1.7% of Australia’s water use. Land use: 78% of the region used for grazing. Ecosystems: 10 nationally important wetlands, predominantly riverine systems. Water resources: 96% sourced from surface water 

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


Geographic information

Fitzroy Bridge, Rockhampton (istock © Grant Phillips)


General description

Area: 142,544 km2
Population: 159,101 (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] 2016)


Map of the Fitzroy River catchment. The catchment is divided into 6 sub-basins that include Comet, Dawson, Fitzroy, Isaac, Mackenzie and Nogoa rivers. Towns in the region include Moranbah in the north, Emerald in the central west, Taroom in the south and Rockhampton and Biloela in the east.
Figure R1 Contextual map of the Fitzroy region


  • The Fitzroy region is located close to the the central Queensland coast and is physically defined by the Fitzroy Basin surface water catchment. More than 20,000 kilometres of waterways flow through this catchment.
  • The Fitzroy is the largest catchment to drain into the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Lagoon, and comprises six main rivers: the Isaac, Nogoa, Comet, Fitzroy, Mackenzie and Dawson.
  • The region accounts for 1.7% of Australia's water use, primarily taken from surface water for agricultural purposes.


Land use

Map of distribution and land use types. Major towns include Moranbah, Emerald, Rockhampton, Biloela and Taroom. Primary land use is grazing followed by forestry, dryland agriculture, and conservation and natural environments.

Figure R2 Land use in the Fitzroy region


  • Approximately 78% of the region is used for pastoral grazing, primarily beef cattle.
  • Mining areas make up a relatively small portion of the region but 40 of Queensland’s 55 coal mines are located in the region.
  • Irrigated agriculture is concentrated around the Emerald and Theodore Irrigation Areas, with some dryland cropping to the west of the region.
  • Rockhampton, Emerald, Moranbah, and Biloela are the main regional centres.


Significant aquatic ecosystems

Map of Ramsar wetlands and nationally important wetlands. Nationally important wetlands are mainly in the northeast of the region along the coast, with several others distributed across inland areas. The Ramsar-listed wetland, Shoalwater and Corio Bay Wetland, is adjacent to the region approximately 100 km north of Rockhampton.

Figure R3 Significant wetlands in the Fitzroy region



Water resources

  • Surface water storages are the primary water resource in the Fitzroy region, including the Fitzroy Barrage, Lake Maraboon and numerous smaller reservoirs and weirs.
  • Groundwater is also an important resource in some areas, in particular the Callide Valley, where groundwater recharge is promoted by hydraulic control structures on the surface water systems.


Surface water


Map of 14 major water storages. Fairbairn Dam, just upstream of Emerald, is the largest, capacity approximately 1,300,000 ML. The other 13 storages are located across the region, total capacity approximately 350,000 ML.

Figure R4 Surface water storages within the Fitzroy region


  • Lake Maraboon, formed by Fairbairn Dam, is the region's largest water storage. It is used for irrigation, mining, and industrial water supply, as well as public water supply to the towns of Emerald, Blackwater, Bluff, Tieri, Dysart and Middlemount.
  • The Fitzroy Barrage is the water supply for Rockhampton, the region's largest town.
  • There are numerous other weirs, dams, and channel systems used as part of water supply schemes in the region.



Map of key gauging stations. Nogoa River at Craigmore, station number 130209A, approximately 40 km upstream of Fairbairn Dam. Comet River at The Lake, station number 130506A. Dawson River at Taroom, station number 130209A, in the south near Taroom. Isaac River at Yatton, station number 130401A, in the north. Mackenzie River at Coolmaringa, station number 130105A, approximately 100 km west of Rockhampton. Fitzroy River at The Gap, station number 130005A, approximately 50 km upstream of Rockhampton.

Figure R5 Key flow gauging stations along the main rivers within the Fitzroy region


Graph of mean monthly flows along the Fitzroy and Isaac rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Fitzroy region.
Figure R6 Mean monthly flows along the Fitzroy and Isaac rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Fitzroy region.


  • The seasonal flow characteristics of rivers within the Fitzroy region reflect the region's annual rainfall pattern. Most of the rainfall occurs between November and April. Consequently, most of the streamflow within the region occurs between December and April.
  • Most of the rivers and creeks in the region can cease to flow during May–October. Releases from Fairbairn Dam regulate flows in the Nogoa River for water supply during these months. Flows in the lower reaches of the Fitzroy River are generally perennial.



Map of groundwater management areas and the Great Artesian Basin. Highlands management area covers the central west. Carnarvon covers the south around the township of Taroom and is underlain by the Great Artesian Basin. Callide management area is in the east, close to the township of Biloela. Fitzroy management area is in the northeast, close to the township of Rockhampton. Isaac Connors management area covers the north.

Figure R7 Groundwater management areas in the Fitzroy region

  • There are five groundwater management areas in the region: Isaac Connors, Highlands, Carnarvon, Callide, and Fitzroy.
  • Groundwater resources in the Carnarvon Groundwater Management Area form part of the Great Artesian Basin; however, the Great Artesian Basin resources are excluded from this account.
  • Water extracted from aquifers in the Callide Valley is used for irrigated agriculture, town supply, mining, and industry. Control structures on Callide and Kroombit creeks are used to promote groundwater recharge into these aquifers after release of surface water from Callide and Kroombit dams.


Water systems

Irrigation areas

  • The Theodore and Emerald irrigation areas are located around the Dawson Valley and Fairbairn Dam respectively. These areas use irrigation channel systems to distribute water for irrigated agriculture.
  • Cotton is the main irrigated crop in these areas. Irrigation is carried out throughout the water supply schemes and water management areas (see below) using supplemented and unsupplemented water.


Water supply schemes

Map of four water supply schemes. The Nogoa Mackenzie scheme is located in the central northern part of the region along the Nagoa and Mackenzie rivers and includes Fairbairn Dam. The Dawson Valley scheme is located along the Dawson River extending from the central eastern part of the region to the south near Taroom. The Callide Valley scheme is in the east near Biloela. Lower Fitzroy and Fitzroy Barrage scheme covers a 100 km stretch of the Fitzroy river northwest of Rockhampton.

Figure R8 Water supply schemes in the Fitzroy region


  • Water supply schemes in the region are managed and operated by SunWater, except for the Fitzroy Barrage Water Supply Scheme, which is managed and operated by Fitzroy River Water, a commercial entity of Rockhampton Regional Council.
  • The schemes use numerous reservoirs, weirs, and pipelines to distribute water to users for irrigation, town water supply, mining, and industrial purposes.


Water management areas

Map of five water management areas. Comet water management area extends along the Comet river in the central west. Nogoa Mackenzie water management area extends along the Mackenzie river and part of the Nogoa river in the central north. Fitzroy water management area extends along the Fitzroy river in the northeast. Theresa Retreat water management area extends along a small portion of Theresa Creek in the northwest. Dawson Valley water management area extends along the Dawson River in the central eastern part of region to the south near Taroom. Lower Callide groundwater sub-area is in the east, along Callide Creek.

Figure R9 Water management areas in the Fitzroy region


  • Water management areas in the region are managed by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.
  • Unsupplemented water is provided to irrigators within these management areas.


Water management

View of Rockhampton, Fitzroy region (istock © anonymous)


Surface water and groundwater management

Water legislation

  • The Water Act 2000 (Water Act) provides authority for the administration of basic water rights and water entitlements (interim allocations, water licences, water allocations and unallocated water) in Queensland, supported by the Water Regulation 2016 which provides details on the procedures and fees associated with water access entitlements and trading.
  • Water plans are prepared under Section 42 of the Water Act to advance the sustainable management of water. The Water Plan (Fitzroy Basin) 2011 applies to all surface water and groundwater in the Fitzroy region, except for spring or overland flow waters connected to water to which the Water Plan (Great Artesian Basin and Other Regional Aquifers) 2017 applies.
  • The construction of overland flow works/infrastructure is regulated under the Queensland Planning Act 2016.


Water management plans

  • The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy is in the process of implementing a new water planning framework. Water management plans in place are the Water Plan (Fitzroy Basin) 2011 and the Fitzroy Basin Resource Operations Plan - September 2017.
  • Five resource operations licences and associated manuals are under preparation. Sunwater is the licence holder for the Callide Valley, Dawson Valley, Lower Fitzroy, and Nogoa Mackenzie water supply schemes; while Rockhampton Regional Council is the licence holder for the Fitzroy River Barrage Water Supply Scheme.
  • Water sharing rules are in place for the Don and Dee groundwater sub-area, surface water within the Don and Dee Rivers and Alma Creek Water Management Area, and the Prospect Creek and Upper Callide groundwater sub-areas.


Unallocated water

  • Unallocated water is available within the Fitzroy region for various purposes, comprising 58,500 ML of unallocated surface water and 31,250 ML of unallocated groundwater.
  • Details on the amount of unallocated water available for release in the region are available on the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy website.


Environmental water management

  • In accordance with the Water Act, the Water Plan (Fitzroy Basin) 2011 defines the environmental flow objectives and ecological outcomes for the region.
  • Environmental flow objectives aim to retain certain temporal flow characteristics at different locations in the river system. These are met through rules which govern storage releases and allowable abstraction.
  • The Fitzroy Basin Resource Operations Plan (September 2015) outlines the specific operational rules designed to achieve the water plan's environmental flow objectives.
  • Further information regarding environmental water provisions for the 2019–20 year is provided in the Cultural and environmental water section in 'Supporting information'.


Cultural water management

  • The traditional owners of the area are the Darumbal people, notably the Baiali and Jetimarala clans.
  • The water plans support water-related cultural values in the region, including the values of the traditional owners in the plan area. The plans provide mechanisms that support water being made available for Indigenous communities dependent on water resources in the plan area to achieve their economic and social goals.
  • Water that has been set aside for State Purposes includes use by Indigenous peoples for non-commercial purposes, including cultural and traditional purposes.
  • More information on the cultural water provisions for the region are available in the Water Plan (Fitzroy Basin) 2011 and the Fitzroy Basin Resource Operations Plan (September 2015).


Organisations responsible for water management

  • Organisations responsible for water management in the Fitzroy region are shown in Table R1.


Table R1 Organisations responsible for water management in the Fitzroy region
OrganisationRoleWater resources managed

Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy

  • water resource planning
  • managing and allocating water resources
  • policy advice to government
  • regulate water service providers
  • groundwater
  • unsupplemented water


  • manage surface water storages
  • deliver bulk water to urban retailers
  • manage the water supply schemes
  • deliver water to water supply scheme customers
  • four schemes (Callide Valley, Dawson Valley, Lower Fitzroy and Nogoa Mackenzie)
  • all storages (see Figure R4)
  • Nathan Dam and pipeline project
  • future infrastructure in Lower Fitzroy River Water Supply Scheme in partnership with GAWB

Gladstone Area Water Board

  • manage bulk storage of water
  • provide the distribution of bulk potable water to customers
  • future infrastructure in Lower Fitzroy Water Supply Scheme in partnership with SunWater

Fitzroy Basin Association

  • enhance stakeholder engagement in natural resource management within region
  • assist with programs and projects to enhance water quality and sustainability of ecosystems
  • involvement in land use planning activities
  • indirectly through programs and projects whole of Fitzroy Basin

Queensland Water Directorate

  • Central advisory and advocacy body within Queensland's urban water industry working with members to provide safe, secure, and sustainable water services to Queensland communities
  •  Nil

Local Governments1:


  • manage bulk water infrastructure
  • provide the distribution and retail of potable water to customers
  • provide the distribution and retail of non potable water to customers
  • collect and treat wastewater
  • provide the distribution and retail of recycled water to customers
  • Fitzroy River Water: Fitzroy Barrage Water Supply Scheme

Local Management Boards2



  • manage the water supply schemes
  • deliver water to water supply scheme customers
  •  Nil


1. Other councils that have part of their administrative area within the Fitzroy region include: Barcaldine Regional Council, Blackall Tambo Regional Council, Gladstone Regional Council, Livingstone Regional Council, Mackay Regional Council, Maranoa Regional Council, Murweh Shire Council, North Burnett Regional Council and Western Downs Regional Council.

2. In October 2015, the Queensland Government announced its decision to transition up to eight SunWater channel irrigation schemes to local management arrangements. Local management will place the channel irrigation schemes under the ownership and operation of newly established boards comprising local irrigators and business representatives who benefit from the schemes. Emerald (Nogoa Mackenzie)  and Theodore (Dawson Valley) schemes are included in these arrangements.


Water rights

Windmill, Fitzroy region (iStock © Traveling Light)


Operating rules and constraints

  • Abstraction of water is controlled by the Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy through allocation planning and water licensing arrangements. Water can only be abstracted and/or interfered with from designated areas within the region when a water authorisation (water allocation, license or permit) is issued.
  • Resource operations licences are required for the operation of water supply scheme infrastructure and distribution of water to water allocation holders. Holders must comply with these licences for day-to-day operational, water sharing, and seasonal water assignment rules.
  • Surface water licences are also issued for unsupplemented water, including water licences to take, licences to interfere, and licences to divert.
  • Under the Water Act 2000, landowners in the Fitzroy region must notify the department of existing overland flow works as soon as possible and obtain a development permit for new works.
  • Water sharing rules describe the arrangments under which access to groundwater within the area is managed. In the Fitzroy region, there are water sharing rules in place for the Don River and Dee River groundwater sub-area, the Don and Dee Rivers and Alma Creek Water Management Area, and the Prospect Creek and Upper Callide groundwater sub-areas. More information on water sharing rules in these areas is available on the Queensland Government website.


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

  • According to the Water Act 2000, water can be abstracted under various types of licences and authorities referred to as water entitlements.
  • Water can also be abstracted under a statutory authorisation without an entitlement for certain purposes only, e.g. stock and domestic use.
  • Supplemented and unsupplemented water entitlements are prioritised, managed, and administered separately.
  • Artesian and sub-artesian groundwater entitlements have separate prioritisation, management, and administration arrangements.


Water allocations

  • Annual water allocations are provided for all water users within water supply schemes. Allocation percentages are announced by resource operations licence holders on the first day of the water year and apply to regulated entitlement holders only. Additional announcements can be made during the year, but the allocation percentage cannot exceed 100% of the allocation volume, or be reduced below the initial allocation percentage.
  • Urban licence holders of supplemented entitlements generally have 'high priority' allocations, typically set at 100% of their allocated volume. Other regulated licence holders with 'medium priority' allocations are subject to announced allocation percentages.
  • In the Fitzroy region, the water year for licence holders is generally 1 July–30 June, except Dawson Valley Water Supply Scheme and Dawson Valley Water Management Area where the water year is from 1 October–30 September.
  • Unsupplemented water is managed separately; for example, unsupplemented water may be abstracted during announced periods based on flow thresholds that ensure environmental streamflows are maintained.


Trades and water rights transfers

  • There are three active water markets in Queensland. The water allocation market concerns the trading of regulated water access entitlements. Seasonal (temporary) assignment of water allocations and other entitlements are dealt in the seasonal water assignment market and the relocatable water licence market concerns the relocation of water licences from one parcel of land to another.
  • Unallocated water is also available for tender in the region from the Strategic or General Reserve unallocated water outlined in the Water Plan (Fitzroy Basin) 2011.
  • Water allocations in Queensland are separate from land rights, and are partly or wholly tradeable on the Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy water allocation register. Relocatable licences can be partly or wholly traded after assessment and are specific to a water resource plan or zone within a water resource plan area.
  • In the Fitzroy region, trading of access entitlements or allocations do not occur between water supply schemes but can occur between zones within them. The rules for water allocation trading are detailed in the Water Regulation 2016, Water Plan (Fitzroy Basin) 2011, the Fitzroy Basin Resource Operations Plan, and the region's water sharing policies.
  • Information on water trading that occurred within the Fitzroy region during the 2019–20 year can be found in the Water market activity section in 'Supporting information'.