Report suspicious water activities

How to help stop illegal water activities

While most water users follow the rules and meet the legal requirements defined in NSW water laws, some people carry out illegal water activities. Sometimes these alleged breaches of water law are deliberate and sometimes they happen out of ignorance of the law.

Water theft and harming a water source can threaten water supplies for legitimate water users and harm the environment. These are serious crimes.

To make a confidential report of any suspicious activities, contact the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR):

mouse icon report suspicious activity

You can also play a role in water compliance and help stop illegal water activities by reporting any suspicious activities or circumstances to NRAR, such as:

  • pumping from a stream during periods when pumping is not permitted
  • water flow in a river suddenly stopping
  • a dam or earthworks being constructed in a creek or river
  • water being diverted from a creek or river
  • healthy looking crops when pumping is banned
  • water carriers replenishing from rivers or creeks.

For more information on illegal water activities, read our guidelines: Compliance with water legislation.

Information we need

To help NRAR respond appropriately to your report, please advise us of an alleged breach of water law as soon as possible, and include the following information:

  • type of activity
  • time, date and location of the activity
  • name of the person who is undertaking the activity, or a description of the person
  • description, registration numbers and type of any vehicles or plant involved
  • any other information you think could be relevant.

NRAR expects that individuals who report alleged breaches will help us respond appropriately by:

  • providing a clear description of the alleged breach
  • giving all available and relevant information toNRAR, including any new information about the alleged activity that comes to light after the initial report
  • not giving any intentionally misleading or wrong information
  • cooperating with NRAR’s inquiries and giving timely responses to questions and requests for information
  • treating NRAR’s staff with courtesy and respect
  • allowing NRAR’s response to be completed without prematurely taking the matter to other agencies, unless referred to by NRAR.

If an individual does not meet these expectations, NRAR may need to set limits or conditions on continuing our response.

Any unreasonable conduct, including making complaints for no reason, will be dealt with in accordance with the NSW Ombudsman’s Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct Manual 2012.

How NRAR will respond to your report

NRAR employs a risk-based approach in responding to reports of alleged breaches of water law.

All reports received are recorded in a database. A preliminary assessment is made of every report to determine the priority for NRAR’s response.

The preliminary assessment may determine that there has been no breach of legislation administered by NRAR. The assessment may also identify that the alleged breach is a low priority and that the report should be considered in future monitoring and audit campaigns rather than being investigated in detail immediately.

NRAR allocates its available resources to the highest-priority cases, which includes those where the alleged offence is significantly impacting a water source or causing serious environmental impact on a waterway. NRAR also considers the culpability of the alleged offender and the public interest in deciding which reports to investigate in detail.

NRAR considers a range of factors when deciding if a report should be investigated, including whether:

  • the report relates to a breach of water laws and falls under NRAR’s jurisdiction, or if another regulator is a more appropriate agency to investigate (for example, the local council, NSW Department of Primary Industries—Fisheries, the NSW Environment Protection Authority, or the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment )
  • the allegations relate to a lawful activity (for example, permission is not required or the activity is permissible with a licence or approval and  the user is complying with all the conditions)
  • the activity described in the report has a significant, detrimental effect on the environment or a water source
  • considerable time has elapsed since the events described in the report took place, affecting NRAR’s ability to investigate any alleged unlawful activity
  • it appears there is a pattern of unlawful conduct or evidence of a possible widespread problem
  • the person or organisation reported has been the subject of previous reports, and the nature of these reports
  • the report raises matters of special significance to NRAR’s existing compliance priorities
  • an investigation or other action would have an unreasonable impact on resources and/or is unlikely to achieve an outcomes sufficient to justify the expenditure of public resources
  • the report relates substantially to a matter previously determined by NRAR, but with no new or compelling information that would make NRAR change its earlier decision
  • the report is supported with evidence
  • the report appears to have no substance
  • it is in the public interest to investigate the report.

NRAR uses a range of compliance tools and responses to alleged breaches of water laws.

Confidentiality

The NRAR handles all information in accordance with the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 and Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998.

If you have provided a postal or email address in your report, you will receive an acknowledgement letter or email.

An NRAR officer conducting the risk assessment may contact you if they need more information.

If NRAR investigates, the investigating officer may contact you and, if you agree, may take a witness statement. If the matter goes to court, the witness statement may be made available to the alleged offender if it forms part of NRAR’s case.

If you have any concerns about your safety because you have made a report, NRAR will take these seriously, but this may limit NRAR’s capacity to employ an appropriate regulatory response to the report.

Anonymous reports

NRAR will record and assess anonymous reports of alleged breaches. However, because NRAR cannot ask for more information about anonymous reports, the range of responses available to NRAR may be limited.

Disagreements between neighbours

NRAR receives reports from neighbours involved in disagreements that are not related to any breach of water laws. Examples include boundary fence disputes, an irrigator inadvertently irrigating a neighbouring property or a storm event causing a creek to erode a neighbour’s land.

When a dispute between neighbours is not related to a breach of water law, it is likely to be a civil or private matter. NRAR will not be a party to resolving civil matters.

LawAccess NSW and Community Justice Centres may be able to help resolve these disagreements.

Responding to reports

When investigating reports of alleged breaches of water law, NRAR will:

  • confirm that there has been a breach of water law
  • confirm the harm or impact of the alleged breach
  • determine any regulatory action(s) necessary to lessen the possibility of the harm or effect associated with the alleged breach happening again
  • determine any regulatory action(s) necessary to lessen any actual or potential harm or effect caused by the alleged breach
  • gather evidence to the required standard to support the appropriate regulatory response
  • decide on the appropriate regulatory response.

For detailed information about NRAR’s response to alleged breaches, read our FAQs on responding to alleged breaches.

NRAR will also consider the severity of reports in responding to alleged breaches. NRAR will respond more urgently to reports of alleged breaches that are causing serious, ongoing harm to a water source or the environment.

NRAR’s regulatory priorities determine how it responds to reports of an alleged breach. This means that reports alleging unlawful activity will be resolved to NRAR’s satisfaction, not necessarily the person making the report. In cases where NRAR is unable to find enough evidence of unlawful activity, its ability to respond with regulatory action may be limited. NRAR may review the report if new information becomes available.

The complexity of medium- and high-priority cases will determine the length of NRAR’s response. If an alleged breach is serious, and if a prosecution should be considered, it may take NRAR over two years to collect the necessary evidence to the required standard for a prosecution.

Investigations by NRAR commonly involve one or more site inspections by NRAR’s authorised officers and collecting information from the landholder and/or licence or approval holder. NRAR receives reports of alleged unlawful activity across the state and has to deploy its resources efficiently and where the greatest need exists. Because of this, NRAR will schedule site inspections for alleged unlawful activities that are not high-risk or time-critical when there is a group of alleged activities within close proximity. This will influence the time taken for NRAR to complete its investigation into these cases.

For some medium-priority cases where there is some environmental harm from the alleged unlawful activity and the person’s culpability for the activity is considered low, NRAR’s actions may focus on requiring the impacted environment (for example, a degraded stream) to be restored, rather than issuing a fine.