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Harvestable rights

Harvestable rights in coastal-draining and central inland-draining catchments

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

Dam with a large tree in the background

The harvestable rights limit for coastal-draining catchments was returned to 10% of rainfall runoff in September 2023 (from 30%, which applied from May 2022). Updates were also made to harvestable rights orders for the coastal-draining and central-inland draining catchments to ensure they are easier to apply and enforce.

Landholders should read the information provided on this page and refer to our frequently asked questions to make sure they understand how the rules have changed and the reasons for the change.

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 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.

Permitted water uses

Water captured and stored in a harvestable rights dam up to the 10% dam capacity for a landholding can be used for any purpose. This includes a single dam or multiple dams with a combined capacity up to the 10% limit.

Permitted use restrictions remain in place if prior to 27 September 2023, you built or enlarged a harvestable rights dam or converted an existing dam into a harvestable rights dam to capture and store water up to the previous 30% limit. The water captured and stored in those dams cannot be transferred to any other type of dam and can only be used for:

  • domestic consumption
  • stock watering
  • extensive agriculture purposes.

Landholders can move water between harvestable rights dams only if those dams have the same permitted uses rules applied to them (i.e. you cannot transfer water from a harvestable rights dam that can be used for any purpose to one that can only be used for stock consumption, stock watering and extensive agriculture – and vice versa).

Landholders must not move water from a harvestable rights dam to any other type of dam on the landholding, including an ‘excluded works PDF, 185.05 KB’ dam or a turkeys nest dam.

Landholders who notified the department they would be capturing up to the previous 30% limit

When the harvestable rights limit changed to 10%, only a handful of landholders had informed the department of their intent to build or use a larger harvestable rights dam up to the previous 30% harvestable rights limit. The department contacted these landholders to notify them of the change back to the 10% limit.

If you did not submit a notification form in accordance with the previous harvestable rights order (the Harvestable Rights (coastal-draining catchments) Order 2022), 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).

The harvestable rights limit for coastal-draining catchments has been returned to 10%

From September 2023, landholders in NSW’s coastal-draining catchments can capture and store up to 10% of the average annual regional rainfall runoff from their landholding as harvestable rights water.

The harvestable rights limit for these catchments was returned to 10% from 30% so work can progress on determining whether the current levels of water extraction in coastal catchments are sustainable in the long term.

It is important this work on sustainable extraction is progressed before any increase to harvestable rights is considered. If the harvestable rights limit was left at 30%, there could be unquantified negative impacts on other water users and downstream environments.

This Sustainable water extraction in coastal catchments factsheet PDF, 103.02 KB provides more information on the work being undertaken to determine sustainable extraction in coastal catchments and how this relates to coastal harvestable rights.

Updates to harvestable rights rules

When the harvestable rights limit was returned to 10% on the coast (on 27 September 2023) updates were made to the other harvestable rights rules for coastal-draining catchments and central-inland draining catchments.

They relate to:

  • harvestable rights dams on floodplains
  • the definition of a ‘landholding’
  • preventing major streams from being misclassified as minor streams
  • clarifying rules for mixed-rights dams
  • preventing landowners and occupiers from both capturing (i.e. double counting) harvestable rights from one landholding.

The updates make the rules clearer and clarify what landholders can and cannot do to help them to better manage water on their landholdings.

The updates also allow the department and the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) to do their job more efficiently and effectively, so they can ensure landholders are following the rules and harvestable rights dams are not having unintended negative impacts on the environment and other water users.

For more information on the updates and what they mean for you, see our frequently asked questions.

Catchment-based assessments

With the decision to return the harvestable rights limit to 10% of rainfall runoff in September 2023, the department will begin a comprehensive process to determine sustainable levels of extraction in coastal catchments, which will consider all forms of water extraction.

The work that had already started on the coastal harvestable rights catchment-based assessments will now be used to inform the broader sustainable water extraction work for coastal NSW.

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 completed a desktop study in 2022 to consider whether low-flow bypasses might have been a cost-effective and a practical option to minimise impacts of larger harvestable rights dams on downstream flows. Now that the harvestable rights limit in coastal catchments has returned to 10%, this review has been put on hold.

Further information

For further information about harvestable rights in coastal-draining and central inland-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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