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About water licensing and approvals

Find information on the water licensing and work approval processes.

The department issues water access licences and water supply work and water use approvals to government agencies and entities, larger water users such as water utilities and irrigation corporations, entities undertaking activities under the Mining Act 1992 or in relation to state significant projects and certain Aboriginal entities. WaterNSW issues licences to rural landholders and businesses.

What is a water access licence?

The state government controls the use and flow of all water in rivers, lakes and aquifers.

In water sharing plan areas, water access licences permit the licence holder to take a specified volume of water from a specified water source, under the terms of the licence.

The department and WaterNSW share responsibility for granting and managing water access licences and water supply work approvals.

WaterNSW is responsible for issuing water access licences (WALs) and associated approvals required by private entities such as rural landholders, rural industries and developments. These make up approximately 96 per cent of all water access licences in NSW.

WaterNSW is also responsible for managing the trade of water access licence entitlements and water allocations (dealings), for water access licence account keeping and water billing for all water access licence holders.

The department issues licences to a small cohort of larger water users such as state significant developments, mining operations, irrigation corporations and government entities. While these water users only account for about 4 per cent of WALs, they use more than 60 per cent of all allocated water in NSW.

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is responsible for ensuring all water access licence holders comply with NSW legislation and the conditions of their licences and approvals, to enable secure and sustainable sharing of water between users and the environment.

Learn more about water access licences, including whether to apply through the department or WaterNSW, via Water Assist.

What are water supply work approvals and water use approvals? 

Water supply work approvals

Water supply work approvals allow you to construct and use a work which takes water from a river, lake or aquifer. Examples of water supply works that require approval include:

  • water pumps
  • water bores, including test bores
  • dams
  • weirs
  • irrigation channels
  • banks and levees.

Water use approvals

Water use approvals allow you to use water on your land. Uses of water that require approval include:

  • irrigation
  • town water supply
  • power generation.

Amending an approval

Approval holders are able to amend an existing approval to alter existing works, add additional works or, to request a condition review. Holders can also apply to amend their water supply work approval to specify that some or all of the works authorised by the approval are 'inactive' or, to withdraw an inactive status.

Extending an approval

Each approval issued by the department is approved for a specified timeframe. Approval holders are able to extend their approval beyond the initial approval period. Extension notices are sent to approval holders 60 days prior to expiry. The letter includes an application form and details of how to submit.

Other types of licences or approvals

Water Act 1912 licences

Some works are covered by a groundwater licence rather than a water supply work approval. These works relate to aquifers and aquifer interference activities and are licensed under Part 5 of the Water Act. Groundwater works licensed under Part 5 include:

  • monitoring bores
  • artificial recharge into an aquifer.

Water supply work and water use approvals are needed to ensure water users do not harm water sources or the animals and plants dependent on them. Approvals also ensure that the works don't affect access to water by other water users.

Licences and approvals for private rural landholders and rural industries are issued by WaterNSW. The department provides licences and approvals for many larger commercial and government entities.

Learn more about water supply work and water use approvals, including whether to apply through the department or WaterNSW, via Water Assist.

How to apply for a water access licence

Information on all water licences, including how to apply, and the fees for each.

Water licensing and works approvals exemptions

Learn more on exemptions, and when you won’t need to apply for water licence or work approvals.

Tweed River.

Groundwater WAL exemptions for 3ML and Botany Sands

Two new WAL exemptions are now available under the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.

Toonumbar Dam.

Drought works

Relevant public authorities can apply to the department for an exemption under clause 39A of the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.

Drought works exemptions

Emergency works exemption

An emergency works exemption is available under the Water Management General Regulation 2018 (the regulation) from 26 February 2021.

Emergency works exemptions

Major projects

Major projects are state significant developments and infrastructure under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

Licence embargoes

Find out about restrictions on applying for a Water Act 1912 licence.

Security interests & legal searches

How to use water licences as security for a mortgage, and how to find out what approvals may apply to land you are thinking of buying or