Key Legislation

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Key Legislation

NSW Water Act (1912)

Water management legislation began in the Gwydir Valley with the Water Act 1912 (NSW), however the past 30-years have seen an increase in regulation around water resource in NSW and within the Murray Darling Basin, which incorporates the Gwydir Valley.  In areas that do not have a Water Sharing Plan in place or where existing approvals have not be converted, the Water Act 1912 still governs the issuing and trade of water licences.

The Water Act 1912 established conditions by which users needed a water licence or authority to take water, these included:

  • Taking water from a stream or river via a pump or other work, for all purposes other than for basic landholder rights.
  • Capturing surface water
    • from rainfall runoff in a farm dam with a storage capacity greater than the calculated Maximum Harvestable Right Dam Capacity for the property
    • from river flow in a dam (any size) located on a river or stream.
  • Extracting groundwater via any type of bore, well, spearpoint or groundwater interception scheme, for all purposes except to take water from an aquifer under a basic landholder right.

The Act established the conditions to establish and maintain works approved for water access, the fees and charges associated with licence applications and usage, as well as the approved types of trades available.  For example, farm infrastructure and flood protection works remain covered by approvals within Part 2 and Part 8 of the Water Act.  These are gradually being transitioned and converted to the Water Management Act as part of the Healthy FLoodplains Project (see Floodplain Flow and Licensing).

As outlined by the NSW Government, in some water sources covered by the Water Act 1912, new water licences may still be granted. However, in other areas there is an embargo in place, particularly on water licences for irrigation and industry. In these areas you can only obtain licences for specific exempt purposes (such as town water, stock and domestic supply).  For more information see the NSW Government website.

NSW Water Management Act (2000)

The Water Management Act 2000 (NSW) was NSW's response to Council of Australian Governments (COAG) framework and to account for the sustainable and integrated management of the state's water for the benefit of both present and future generations and will in-time supersede the Water Act 1912 (NSW) in all aspects of water management.

The Water Management Act 2000 was based on the concept of an ecological sustainable level of take - allowing for the sharing of resources to maintain key ecosystem process and environmental health, as well as protecting critical water needs and providing for social and economic uses of water.  The Act was largely driven by the need for NSW to meet its obligations under the Murray Darling Basin Cap on diversions (setting extractions at this level in 1993/94) and secure a sustainable basis for water management for several reasons:

  • NSW was at the limit of its available water resources.
  • Water dependant ecosystems were in decline and/or at risk.

As a result, the Water Management Act 2000 recognised the need to allocate and provide water for the environmental health of our rivers and groundwater systems, while also providing licence holders with more secure access to water and greater opportunities to trade water through the separation of water licences from land. The main tool the Act provides for managing the state's water resources are Water Sharing Plans. These are used to set out the rules for the sharing of water in a particular water source between water users and the environment, and rules for the trading of water in a particular water source.

Since the legislation was passed in 2000, some amendments have been undertaken to better implement the new arrangements and to also give effect to other interstate and federal agreements and legislation.

The NSW Government shortly thereafter, gazetted the first of the NSW Water Sharing Plans which was the corner-stone of the Water Management Act 2000.  These plans continued to be rolled out for the following 10 years, with many due for renewal and replacement, having expired their tenure. For more information on the Gwydir Valley's Water Sharing Plans, see our page.

Commonwealth Water Act (2007)

Prior to the finalisation of the tenure of any NSW Water Sharing Plan, the Commonwealth Government established the Water Act 2007 (Cth) in response to the National Plan for Water Security.  The Water Act 2007 provides the legislative framework for managing the Murray-Darling Basin across multiple state jurisdictions, which remain responsible for the implementation and operation aspects.

The Water Act:

  • Establishes the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) with the functions and powers, including enforcement powers, needed to ensure that Basin water resources are managed in an integrated and sustainable way.
  • Requires the MDBA to prepare the Basin Plan - a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.
  • Establishes a Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to manage the Commonwealth's environmental water to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin, and outside the Basin where the Commonwealth owns water.
  • Provides the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with a key role in developing and enforcing water charge and water market rules along the lines agreed in the National Water Initiative.
  • Gives the Bureau of Meteorology water information functions that are in addition to its existing functions under the Meteorology Act 1955.
  • Gives the Productivity Commission a role in reporting on the effectiveness of the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and water resource plans and the progress towards achieving the objectives and outcomes of the National Water Initiative.

The Water Act 2007 has been amended over time, most recently following the statutory review, which was completed with recommendations adopted in 2016.

Commonwealth Murray Darling Basin Plan (2012)

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority was empowered under the Federal Water Act to produce a Basin Plan. The Authority released its Guide to the Basin Plan in October 2010 but following extensive consultation and re-drafting into a new proposal, the Basin Plan 2012 (Cth) became legislation in November 2012.

The aim of the Basin Plan is to ensure that water is shared between all users, including the environment, in a sustainable way. It aims to do this by managing the basin as one system and by the establishment of new Sustainable Diversion Limits. This will enable the river systems to continue to support communities and industries into the future by providing all users a clearer understanding of their available water in the long-term.  

It will be subject to reviews and changes during its seven-year implementation, by which time all Murray-Darling Basin States must implement accredited Water Resource Plans that outline how Basin Plan objectives are being addressed. This includes how water resources will be managed to meet Sustainable Diversion Limits.

For more information on the Murray Darling Basin Plan see our page.

Making Every Drop Count

Securing a future for the Gwydir Valley through Irrigated Agriculture.