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Harvestable rights

Harvestable rights in coastal-draining catchments

Information on the rules and requirements for coastal-draining areas of NSW.

Harvestable rights allow landholders (owners or occupiers of land) to capture and store a proportion of the rainfall runoff from their landholding in one or more harvestable rights dams without a water access licence, water supply work approval or water use approval.

From May 2022, landholders in NSW’s coastal-draining catchments can capture and store up to 30 per cent of the average annual regional rainfall runoff from their landholding as harvestable rights water.

This was increased from 10 per cent following a review and community consultation of harvestable rights limits in coastal areas. The increase provides improved on-farm water storage for landholders’ basic water needs and promotes drought resilience.

The rules for capturing rainfall runoff in the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area are specified in the Harvestable Rights (coastal-draining catchments) Order 2022.

NSW Coastal Draining Catchments map
The boundaries of the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area are shown in the map.

Catchment-based assessments

A range of mitigation measures are in place in recognition of the potential effects of the increase in harvestable rights limit. One key measure is catchments will undergo a more detailed assessment to confirm whether the new limits remain appropriate at the local level, considering the needs of the environment, other water users and communities within each catchment, and seek to simplify the requirements where possible. This may result in adjustments being made to a catchment’s harvestable rights limit. The assessments will begin later in 2022.

Landholders who choose to construct a new dam or enlarge an existing dam to access the additional harvestable right available from May 2022, but before the assessment of their catchment has been completed, will have to resize their dams if the harvestable rights limit is reduced in their catchment.

More information on the catchment-based assessments will be made available when they begin later in 2022. Subscribe to Water News to keep up to date.

Location of harvestable rights dams

Harvestable rights dams can be built on non-permanent minor streams (first and second order streams), hillsides and gullies. Streams are identified in the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 hydro line spatial data.

Dams cannot be constructed on third order (or above) streams, on declared floodplains, or within 3 kilometres upstream of a Ramsar wetland.

See the Frequently Asked Questions and fact sheets for information on determining stream order and where dams can be built.

Maximum harvestable right dam capacity for a landholding

Landholders wanting to access their additional harvestable right will need to use the Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator to determine the total capacity of harvestable rights dams allowed on their landholding.

For landholdings located in coastal-draining catchments, the online calculator determines a dam capacity based on the previous 10 per cent of rainfall runoff limit as well as a maximum dam capacity based on the 30 per cent of rainfall runoff limit.

The combined capacity of all harvestable rights dams on a landholding cannot exceed the calculated maximum dam capacity based on the 30 per cent limit.

Prior to constructing or enlarging a harvestable rights dam, or changing the use of an existing dam to a harvestable rights dam, landholders need to determine the existing capacity of harvestable rights dams on their landholding. This will allow the landholder to calculate how much extra water can be captured within the new limit.

See the Frequently Asked Questions for information on determining dam capacity and mixed-rights dams. Landholders should keep a record of the maximum harvestable right dam capacity from the online calculator for monitoring and compliance purposes and to help them submit the notification form to the department.

Permitted water uses

Water stored in a single dam (or multiple dams with a combined capacity) up to the 10 per cent dam capacity volume can be used for any purpose.

Water stored in a single dam (or multiple dams with a combined capacity) that is larger than the 10 per cent dam capacity volume and up to the 30 per cent maximum dam capacity volume can only be used for the following purposes:

  • domestic consumption
  • stock watering
  • extensive agriculture purposes.

See the Frequently Asked Questions for definitions of the permitted uses and examples of non-permitted uses of water stored in these larger harvestable rights dams.

To ensure that the limitations on water use can be effectively monitored and enforced by the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR), a landholder must:

  • keep harvestable rights dams that have a combined volume up to the 10 per cent dam capacity and are used for any purpose separate from other harvestable rights dams (above the 10 per cent dam capacity volume) where the water is limited to certain uses; and
  • not move water from harvestable rights dams to any other dam on the landholding.

Notification form for constructing harvestable rights dams

Landholders in the coastal-draining catchments must complete and submit a notification form before they can take up their right to capture and store more water (above the 10 per cent dam capacity volume) as a result of the increase in harvestable rights from May 2022.

The notification form is not an approval but is needed to help monitor growth in farm dam development and inform future water resource management and planning. It also enables the department to advise individual landholders if the settings within their catchment change over time.

If you do not submit a notification form before taking up the increased right, any dams constructed or converted will not be harvestable rights dams and regulatory action may be taken unless the appropriate approvals or exemptions are in place. A water supply work approval will be needed for the dam/s and water take will need to be licensed (unless an appropriate exemption applies).

Notification form

Low flow bypasses

Low flow bypasses are devices that can be installed to divert runoff from smaller rainfall events around dams. They have the potential to reduce impacts of the dam on downstream river flows, especially when river levels are low and during a drought.

The department has commenced a desktop study to look at whether low flow bypasses might be a cost-effective and a practical option to minimise impacts of larger harvestable rights dams on downstream flows. The study is considering how these devices are used in other jurisdictions like South Australia and Victoria.

Depending on the outcomes of the review, field trials may be conducted in NSW. Landholders will be kept up to date via Water News and other communication channels.

Further information

For further information about harvestable rights in coastal-draining catchments, see the Frequently Asked Questions, fact sheets or contact Water Enquiries on 1300 081 047 or water.enquiries@dpie.nsw.gov.au.

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