Last updated 8 February 2023

Water planning and use

The Water Act 2000 (Qld) (Water Act) provides a framework for the planning, allocation and use of surface water and groundwater in Queensland, including regulating major water impoundments (e.g. dams and weirs) and extraction through pumping for irrigation and other uses.

In the south-western part of Queensland in the Murray-Darling Basin, the Water Act 2007 (Cth) provides an additional layer of Commonwealth regulation for the management of the water resources.

The Water Act provides a system of interrelated plans, licences and permits for the regulation of in-stream (watercourses, lakes and springs), overland water flow and groundwater. These include:

  • water plans—the most important plans for water management in Queensland. They are prepared through a consultative process generally on a catchment-by-catchment basis. Water plan areas exist for many catchments in the state including the Fitzroy River and Burnett River
  • water-use plans—prepared for areas at risk of land or water degradation (s 60)
  • water licences—authorise the taking of water from a location or the interference with water at a location (s 106).

The Water Act also controls water use and activities that may impact on water resources and:

  • prohibits quarrying or placing fill in a watercourse, lake or spring without a permit (ss 218, 814)
  • regulates special works (e.g. watercourse diversion or reclamation works), dams, creation and management of irrigation areas, and water supply and drainage
  • prohibits diversion of water and construction of facilities for supply, drainage or flood mitigation
  • regulates development in declared catchment areas that may impact on water quality in major water storages, in particular subdivision of land and sewage disposal
  • regulates development of referable dams
  • provides for the regulation of water and sewerage services and the establishment of water authorities.

The Water Act is partially integrated into the development assessment process under the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) (Planning Act). For extraction of water from a watercourse and other matters regulated under the Water Act, a person requires:

Schedule 10, pt 19 makes some development involving taking or interfering with water assessable development. This includes:

  • all work in a watercourse, lake or spring that involves taking or interfering with water (e.g. a pump, gravity diversion, stream redirection, weir or dam)
  • artesian and sub-artesian bores.

An owner of land adjoining a watercourse, lake or spring may take water for stock or domestic purposes but this is subject to self-assessment under the Planning Act and the Water Act.

Further information about controls under the Water Act is available from the Department of Resources.

Use of surface and groundwater for mining, and petroleum and coal seam gas extraction is exempt development under the Planning Act. These activities are regulated by the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld), the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 (Qld) and the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (Environmental Protection Act). Coal seam gas and mining companies have unlimited rights to extract groundwater.

Basic water rights

Government approval is required for most things constructed or installed to capture or extract surface or ground water, except in limited situations. In contrast, taking water by hand is not generally regulated. No government approval is required to take water from any natural stream, river or lake:

  • for personal use (e.g. drinking) if taken without pumps or construction of facilities
  • in an emergency situation such as for fighting a fire that threatens to destroy a house
  • for camping purposes if taken without pumps or construction of facilities
  • for watering travelling stock if taken without pumps or construction of facilities.

However, these basic water rights may be limited by notice of a water supply emergency or moratorium during water shortages. Water use may also be restricted if the water is polluted.

Water use and supply for drinking, household and industrial uses in areas connected to the town water supply is largely controlled by local governments and may be subject to water restrictions and charges.

Drought restrictions

Water restrictions can be imposed under the Water Act in times of water shortage. Moratorium notices are available from the Department of Resources.

Water pollution

Water pollution is controlled under the Environmental Protection Act.