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South East Queensland: Geographic information

  • The South East Queensland region includes Queensland's major population centres of Brisbane, Ipswich, the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast.
  • The region has an extensive network of water bodies consisting of creeks, rivers, wetlands, lakes, bays and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Surface water is the main water source, primarily for urban supply.

Melbourne region map. Water use: 2.4% of Australia's water use. Land use: 51% of the region used for grazing. Ecosystems: 1 Ramsar wetland of international importance. Water resources: 95% sourced from surface water.

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


Geographic information

Wivenhoe Dam, SEQ region (Seqwater © 2010)


General description

Area: 24,081 km²
Population: 3.27 million (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016)


Map of main rivers and water catchments. The region is defined by 5 surface water catchments: Brisbane River in the western part of the region; Logan-Albert Rivers and South Coast in the south, Maroochy River in the northeast, and Pine River in the central east. A part of the Mary and Noosa river catchments are also in the north of the region.
Figure R1 Contextual map of the South East Queensland region


  • The region is located on the southeast coast of Queensland and includes the major population centres of Brisbane, Ipswich, the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast.
  • The boundary of the region is physically defined by the Brisbane, Logan-Albert, Maroochy, and Pine river catchments, as well as the South Coast catchment and part of the Mary and Noosa river catchments.
  • The region is home to an extensive network of water bodies, consisting of creeks, rivers, wetlands, lakes, bays and the Pacific Ocean.


Land use

Map of the distribution and land use types. The city of Brisbane is located in the central east part of the region near the coast. Other urban centres include Gold Coast in the south of the region, Ipswich to the west of Brisbane, and Caboolture and Sunshine Coast in the north. Urban land use is concentrated in the Brisbane metropolitan area. Primary land use is grazing, which occurs throughout most of the western part of the region.
Figure R2 Land use in the South East Queensland region


  • The South East Queensland region is the most densely populated area of Queensland. It includes the urban centres of Brisbane (1.25 million residents), Ipswich (0.33 million), the Gold Coast (0.59 million), and the Sunshine Coast (0.36 million).
  • Urban land use activities are a major water user in the region, although covering a relatively small area (8% of the region).
  • Grazing is the predominant land use outside of the urban centres, and occupies more than 50% of the region.


Significant aquatic ecosystems

Map of Ramsar wetlands and nationally important wetlands. Most wetlands are located within the eastern coastal part of the region. There is 1 Ramsar-listed wetland in the region: Moreton Bay, which encompasses the central eastern coastline. There are 5 nationally-important wetlands within the Moreton Bay area: Upper Pumicestone Coastal Plain, Pumicestone Passage, Bribie Island, Pine River and Hayes Inlet, and North Stradbroke Island. There are another 12 nationally-important wetlands throughout the region.
Figure R3 Nationally important wetlands and Ramsar wetlands in the South East Queensland region


  • There are 17 nationally important wetlands listed in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia within the region.
  • These wetlands cover in excess of 3,200 km², with habitats ranging from perched freshwater lakes and sedge swamps on offshore sand islands, to intertidal mudflats, marshes, sandflats and mangroves in near-shore marine areas.
  • The wetlands of Moreton Bay are listed in the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and receive river outflows from the region.


Significant Aboriginal cultural places and practices

  • Prior to European settlement, a large number of Aboriginal people lived in the South East Queensland region (Jabree Ltd 2013). It is estimated that the Logan, Albert, Coomera and Nerang catchment areas once contained 1,500 to 2,000 Aboriginal communities.
  • There are four indigenous sub-regions within South East Queensland, corresponding to the recognised language groups for the Goori / Murri Nation (Choy et al. 2011). The boundaries of these sub-regions are mostly delineated by rivers within the region as described in Table R1.
  • There are numerous registered cultural heritage sites near waterways in the region, including 11 sites along the Albert River, four along the Bremer River, ten along the Coomera River, seven along Lockyer Creek, and ten along the Logan River (Constable and Love 2015).
  • The creation stories of water Warrajum (Bunyip) and Walmaroo (Sand Goanna) of the Ugarapul people are examples of the spiritual and cultural links of local Aboriginal people with rivers in the region. Multiple cultural water assets associated with these and other narratives have been identified in the region of both spiritual and customary value (Constable and Love 2015).


Table R1 Indigenous sub-regions in the South East Queensland region (after Choy et al. 2011)
Sub-regionApproximate geographic locationPeoples
Northern sub-regionArea from the north of the Noosa River to Pine RiverGubbi Gubbi, Kabi Kabi, Jinibara, and Dalungbara people
Central sub-regionArea between the Pine and Logan Rivers to the western extent of the regionJagera (Jagera, Yuggera, Ugarapul), Jinibara, and Turrbal people
Southern sub-regionArea between the Logan River and the southern border of the regionYugambeh (eight tribes), Ngarang-Wal/Kombumerri, Mulanjarlie, and Eastern Yugambeh people
Eastern sub-regionMoreton Bay islands, adjacent mainland, and sea countryQuandamooka (Ngugi, Noonucle, Gorenpul) people


Water resources

  • Most of the region's water supply comes from surface water, which is mainly used for urban supply.
  • Groundwater extraction, mainly for agricultural use, is primarily limited to several alluvial aquifers located along river valleys.
  • Some desalinated and recycled water resources within the region can supplement surface and groundwater resources for urban use and power supply.


Surface water


Map of major storages. Lake Wivenhoe in the central part of the region is the region's largest storage with a capacity of around 1,165,000 ML. Other major storages include Somerset, Hinze, North Pine, and Wyaralong, with a combined capacity of around 1,008,000 ML. The remaining storages, located across most of the region, are all less than 100,000 ML in capacity.
Figure R4 Surface water storages in the South East Queensland region


  • Surface water storages are an important water source in the region, mainly for urban water supply.
  • The five largest storages in the region are Wivenhoe, Somerset, Hinze, North Pine, and Wyaralong. Together they represent approximately 80% of the region's storage capacity.


  • The five main rivers in the region are the Albert, Bremer, Brisbane, Logan, and Maroochy rivers.


Map of key gauging stations. North Maroochy River at Eumundi, station ID 141009A, is located in the north of the region. Brisbane River at Gregors Creek, station ID 143009A, is in the northwest of the region. Bremer River at Walloon, station ID 143107A, is near the town of Ipswich. Logan River at Yarrahappini, station ID, 145014A, and Albert River at Bromfleet, station ID 145102B, are in the southern part of the region.
Figure R5 Key flow gauging stations along the main rivers within the South East Queensland region


Graph of mean monthly flow along the rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the South East Queensland region

Figure R6 Mean monthly flow along the rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the South East Queensland region


  • The seasonal flow characteristics of rivers within the region reflect the region's annual rainfall pattern, where most rainfall occurs between November and March.
  • Typically, the Albert, Brisbane, Logan, and Maroochy rivers have perennial flow, whereas the Bremer River may occasionally cease to flow.



  • Groundwater extracted from alluvial aquifers is the primary water source in the irrigation-dominated upland valleys of the region. In particular, the Lockyer Valley alluvial aquifer is primarily used for irrigation and is managed under the Moreton Water Plan.
  • In some areas, groundwater is sourced from local aquifers for a variety of uses. The Cooloola Sandmass aquifer, which lies in the Mary Basin Water Plan area, is primarily used by Cooloola Shire Council for the Rainbow Beach town water supply, as well as for commercial and domestic purposes in nearby areas.
  • Groundwater resources in the Clarence–Moreton Groundwater Management Area, located partially within the region, form part of the Great Artesian Basin; however, Great Artesian Basin resources are excluded from this account.


Desalinated water

  • Desalinated water from the Gold Coast Desalination Plant can be used to augment the region's drinking water supply, particularly during weather events or interruptions to supply in other parts of the South East Queensland Water Grid.
  • The plant is capable of providing up to 133 ML of water per day at 100% capacity, but has primarily operated in 'hot standby' mode since December 2010 (three runs per fortnight, producing 5 ML per run). The plant is capable of running at 33% of capacity with 24 hours notice and at 100% capacity with 72 hours notice.


Recycled water

  • Class A+ recycled water is supplied for residential use (toilet-flushing and external use) and non-residential use (industrial use) in the Pimpama–Coomera area of the City of Gold Coast.
  • The Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme, extending from Brisbane's southwest suburbs towards the city of Ipswich, was used to provide purified recycled water to power stations, fertiliser industries and potentially agricultural users. The scheme was decommissioned in 2015 and is now in care and maintenance mode.


Water systems

Urban water system

  • Water service providers, including the Council of the City of Gold Coast, Logan City Council, Redland City Council, Queensland Urban Utilities, and Unitywater, supply potable water to most residents in the region via the South East Queensland Water Grid.
  • The grid comprises a network of treatment facilities and more than 600 km of reverse-flow pipelines that move water between various sources across the region. Key components include 22 major surface water storages, 30 operational water treatment plants, six operational recreational water treatment plants and five groundwater bore fields.
  • A water pipeline between Wivenhoe Reservoir and Cressbrook Creek can be used to supply raw water to Toowoomba Regional Council, if required.
  • In a number of 'off grid' communities within the region, drinking water supplies are not directly connected to the water grid. Instead, water is sourced and treated locally.


Farm dams

  • According to the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, there are approximately 1,700 farm dams greater than 0.25 ha in area within the region, with a combined estimated storage volume of 59,080 ML.


Water management

Thargomindah artesian bore, Queensland (istock © John Carnemolla)


Surface water and groundwater management

Water legislation


Water management plans

  • The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy is in the process of implementing a new water planning framework. Current water management planning instruments are summarised in Table R2.
  • The four water plan areas in the region—Gold Coast, Moreton, Logan Basin, and part of the Mary Basin—are shown in Figure R7.
  • Draft amendments to the Water Plan (Moreton) 2007 and Moreton Water Management Protocol were published in November 2018, which seek to establish water allocation and management arrangements for existing entitlement holders in the Central Lockyer Valley Water Supply Scheme.
  • Five groundwater management areas—Cressbrook Creek Alluvial, Lockyer Valley, Warrill Bremer Alluvial, Watercourse Buffer Zone, and Cooloola Sandmass subartesian area—exist within the region, as shown in Figure R8. These are all located in the Moreton water plan area, except the Cooloola Sandmass which lies within the Mary Basin water plan area.
  • The Great Artesian Basin and Other Regional Aquifers (GABORA) water plan area also underlies part of the region, though GABORA resources are not included in the region account.


Table R2 Water management planning instruments in the South East Queensland region
Water planWater management protocolResource operations licence
Water Plan (Gold Coast) 2006Gold Coast Water Management Protocol
Water Plan (Logan Basin) 2007Logan Basin Water Management Protocol (currently in preparation)
  • Logan River Water Supply Scheme Resource Operations Licence (in prep.)
Water Plan (Moreton) 2007Moreton Water Management Protocol
Water Plan (Mary Basin) 2006Mary Basin Water Management Protocol (currently in preparation)
  • Baroon Pocket Water Supply Scheme Resource Operations Licence (in prep.)
  • Mary Valley Water Supply Scheme Resource Operations Licence (in prep.)


Map of 4 water plan areas. Mary Basin water plan area is in the northern part of the region. Moreton water plan area covers the entire central part of the region. Logan Basin and Gold Coast water plan areas are in the southern part of the region.
Figure R7 Water plan areas in the South East Queensland region


Map of 5 groundwater management areas. Lockyer Valley, Cressbrook Creek Alluvial, Warrill Bremer Alluvial, and Watercourse Buffer Zone groundwater management areas are located within the Moreton water plan area in the western part of the region. Cooloola Sandmass Subartesian Area is within the Mary Basin water plan area in the northern part of the region.
Figure R8 Groundwater management areas in the South East Queensland region


Environmental water management

  • Water plans are produced in accordance with the Water Act. These must establish environmental flow objectives and ecological outcomes, and consider environmental values listed in the Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009.
  • 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.
  • Various performance indicators are used for assessing environmental flow objectives, as described in the Cultural and environmental water note in 'Supporting information'.
  • More details on environmental flow objectives can be found in the four water plans active in the region (Gold Coast, Moreton, Mary Basin, and Logan Basin).


Cultural water management

  • The four water plans in the region support water-related cultural values. Allowing cultural use of the plan area by traditional owners is listed as a general outcome for surface water and/or groundwater in all four water plans.
  • The water plans also require decision makers to consider the proposed impacts of various actions on cultural values including, for example, cultural values of traditional owners, and where appropriate impose conditions to ensure these cultural values are maintained. These actions include taking water from waterholes or lakes, granting water from general, strategic and town water supply reserves, and deciding operational and supply arrangements for water infrastructure.
  • Other relevant plans include the South East Queensland Natural Resource Management Plan 2009–2031, which emphasises recognising traditional owners as natural resource managers, and acknowledges the SEQ Traditional Owner Cultural Resource Management Plan and its targets and actions as an integral element of regional natural resource management planning.
  • The South East Queensland Traditional Owners Alliance (SEQTOA) is the peak body formed by traditional owner cultural groups in the South East Queensland region to represent and advance their interests in cultural and natural resource management.


Organisations responsible for water management

  • Organisations responsible for water management in the South East Queensland region are shown in Table R3.
  • The Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater) does not manage water, but coordinates centralised provision of water data for almost all Queensland water management entities.


Table R3 Organisations responsible for water management in the South East Queensland region
OrganisationPrincipal rolesMajor storages managed by organisation

Queensland Government Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy

  • Manages through regulatory functions for the productive and responsible use of water, land, mineral and energy resources.
  • Delivers innovative policy, planning and regulatory solutions in partnership with stakeholders to support cost-effective, safe, secure and reliable energy and water supply.


Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science

  • Develops and coordinates science and information and communication technology policy, whole-of-government approach on innovation, supports and invests in research and development, manages state's intellectual property policy and assets.
  • Manages the health of the environment to protect Queensland's unique ecosystems, including its landscapes and waterways as well as its native plants, animals and biodiversity.


Queensland Government Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing

  • Manages national park, marine parks, forests, conservation parks, fish habitats, resource reserves and races.



  • Bulk water supplier: manages more than $11.9 billion of water supply assets, including dams, weirs, conventional water treatment plants, reservoirs, pumps and pipelines, the Gold Coast desalination plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme, collectively known as the South East Queensland Water Grid
  • Manages the majority of water supply systems in the South East Queensland region
  • Holds majority of resource operations licences and interim resource operations licences
  • Manages recreation facilities providing more than 50% of the green space in the region outside of national parks
  • Manages water quality in accordance with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Hinze, Bromelton Off-Stream Storage, Cedar Grove Weir, Enoggera, Gold Creek, Atkinson, Clarendon, Bill Gunn, Lake Kurwongbah, Lake Manchester, Lake Maroon, Lake Moogerah, North Pine, Somerset, Wivenhoe, Little Nerang, Mount Crosby Weir, Leslie Harrison, Wyaralong, Baroon Pocket, Cooloolabin, Ewen Maddock, Lake McDonald, Poona and Wappa

Tarong Energy

  • Power generator

Splityard Creek

Queensland Urban Utilities, Council of the City of Gold Coast, Logan City Council, Redland City Council, Unitywater, South Burnett Regional Council

  • Urban utility: retail


Toowoomba Regional Council

  • Urban utility: retail
  • Surface water store manager
  • Manages Cressbrook Creek Water Supply Scheme
  • Cressbrook Creek Resource Operations Licence holder

Cressbrook and Perseverance


Map of urban utility service areas and local government areas. There are 7 water utility service areas within the South East Queensland region. Queensland Urban Utilities is the largest service area covering most of the western and southern parts of the region. The service area is made up of 5 local government areas: Somerset, Lockyer Valley, and Scenic Rim regional councils and Brisbane and Ipswich city councils. Unity Water service area is in the northwest of the region and is made up of 3 local government areas: Noosa and Sunshine Coast city councils and Moreton Bay Regional Council. Other utility provider service areas include Redland City Council, Logan City Council, Council of the City of Gold Coast, and the Toowoomba and South Burnett regional councils.
Figure R9 Utility service areas in the South East Queensland region


Water rights

Wivenhoe Dam, SEQ region (istock © Alecia Scott)


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 or distribution operations licences are required for 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.
  • Groundwater sources within the Lockyer Valley, Warrill Bremer Alluvial area, Watercourse Buffer Zone and Cressbrook Alluvial area are managed as groundwater management areas under the Moreton Water Plan. Groundwater resources within the Cooloola Sandmass are managed as groundwater management areas under the Mary Basin Water Plan.
  • Water restrictions are managed by the bulk water supply authority, Seqwater, the South East Queensland council water businesses (distributor-retailers), and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy. Further information can be found on the Queensland Government water restrictions website.


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

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


Water allocations

  • Annual water allocations, known as supplemented allocations, are provided for all water users within water supply schemes. Allocation percentages are announced by resource operations licence / distribution operations licence holders on the first day of the water year (generally from 1 July–30 June unless otherwise specified) for supplemented entitlement holders. 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.
  • Announced allocation percentages vary between water supply schemes and priority groups. Urban licence holders of supplemented entitlements generally have 'high priority' allocations, typically set at 100% of their allocated volume. Urban holders of supplemented entitlements have the same announced limit applied to their entitlement as other supplemented entitlement holders of the same priority entitlements.
  • Unsupplemented water (taken from the natural flow of a river or from groundwater) 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; the seasonal water assignment market deals with the seasonal (temporary) assignment of water allocations and other entitlements; and the relocatable water licence market concerns the relocation of water licences from one parcel of land to another.
  • Currently the South East Queensland region only conducts trade that involves surface water but markets for groundwater trading may be developed in the future.
  • Water allocations in Queensland are separate from land rights, and are partly or wholly tradeable and registered 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 plan or zone within a water plan area.
  • The rules for water allocation trading (temporary trades referred to as 'seasonal water assignment') are detailed in the Water Regulation 2016, the four water plans for the region, and associated instruments. The rules specify geographic limits for trading that ensure water allocation security objectives and environmental flow objectives are achieved.