Last updated 20 February 2017     This chapter is currently under review.

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-resource plans—the most important plans for water management in Queensland. They are prepared through a consultative process generally on a catchment-by-catchment basis (ss 38–58). Such plans seek to balance water allocations and environmental flows (s 46). Water resource plans 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)
  • land and water management plans—prepared before irrigation is undertaken (s 73)
  • resource-operations plans—provide practical operational details of the implementation of a water-resource plan in an area (s 95) where resource-operations licences, distribution-operations licences (s 108), water allocations (s 122), water licences (s 206) and water permits (s 237) may be granted.

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 266, 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 Integrated Development Assessment System under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (Sustainable Planning Act). For extraction of water from a watercourse and other matters regulated under the Water Act, a person requires:

  • a water entitlement, water allocation or water licence. Applications for resource entitlements are assessed against relevant criteria and any relevant water resource plans and resource operations plans
  • a development permit for use of water that is assessable development under sch 3 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 (Qld) (Sustainable Planning Regulation).

Schedule 3 makes some development involving taking or interfering with water either assessable or self-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)
  • all artesian bores anywhere in the state, no matter what their use.

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 Sustainable Planning Act and the Water Act.

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

Use of surface and groundwater for mining, and petroleum and coal seam gas extraction is exempt development under the Sustainable 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 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 during water shortages (ss 20–22 Water Act). 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.

Water pollution

Water pollution is controlled under the Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Protection Policy (Water) 2009 (Qld).