Licensing framework

The licensing framework for floodplain harvesting (and other categories of water access licence) consists of the Water Management Act 2000 (the Act), its regulations, water sharing plans, licences and approvals, and for floodplain harvesting - floodplain management plans. How these elements relate to each other to form the framework, is explained below.

The Act sets the principles for sustainable management of water in NSW and the framework for licensing all forms of water take. Section 57A of the Act, provides for regulations to be made for licensing of floodplain water usage by landholders.

Regulations are made under the authority of the Act and set out the administrative detail. The regulations gazetted 1 July 2022 set out the process for determining the category and share component of floodplain harvesting licences and the measurement requirements for those licences. They enable the licensing and measurement of this form of water take and detail an exemption for rainfall run-off collected in a tailwater drain.

Water Sharing Plans set the rules for sharing of water between water users, including the environment, in a water source. They include rules for all water licence holders in that water source and rules for water trading. They are given effect through conditions on licences and approvals, bringing all water users including floodplain harvesters, into the licensing framework managed under the Act.

Water Access Licences give a water user the legal right to take water from a specified water source and define how much water they can take (their share component in unit shares). This gives effect to water sharing plans in two key ways - to the plan limits, by limiting how much water each licensee can take, and to the plan rules, through conditions on the licence, including when water can or cannot be taken. Find out more about the licensing process for floodplain harvesting.

Floodplain management plans define the rules and assessment criteria for the construction of flood works in a designated floodplain. Rules consider local and cumulative impacts to the environment, Aboriginal cultural heritage, and downstream water users. Management zones in a plan aim to guide development on the floodplain and protect flood-dependent environmental and cultural assets. The department develops floodplain management plans and WaterNSW assesses flood work approvals.

Flood work approvals give effect to floodplain management plans, by ensuring that the construction or installation of any flood work such as a bank or levee on a floodplain is consistent with the relevant plan. If a flood work takes water, it will also require a water supply work approval.

Water supply work approvals give effect to water sharing plans by ensuring that every work used to take water from the water source is lawful and consistent with the water sharing plan. An approval authorises its holder to construct and use a specified water supply work at a specified location. It includes conditions reflecting the requirements of the relevant water sharing plan, measurement requirements for taking water and any other conditions specific to the particular approval and location, where required.

Approvals also implement rules in the relevant water sharing plan. For example, rules require that water supply works nominated by a floodplain harvesting access licence, cannot be located outside the designated floodplain or inside management zones A and D of the relevant floodplain management plan.

Only a licence authorises a water user to take water. Before water can be taken with a water supply work, that work must be nominated by a water access licence. Approvals cannot be traded to another property or location.

Find out more about the licensing process for floodplain harvesting.

Policies

The NSW Government declared in 2008, that water users taking water from floodplains would need to hold a licence and a water supply work approval.

The NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy and the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Measurement Policy developed by the department, provide the detail following that declaration. Requirements in these policies on licensing and measurement of floodplain harvesting must be enabled through regulations, to have legal effect.

Limits on water taken from floodplains

Each water sharing plan establishes a legal limit on extraction of water from the water source (or sources). This limit is known as the long-term average annual extraction limit (annual extraction limit) and applies to all forms of water take in the water source(s).

The Murray Darling Basin Plan establishes another legal limit for extraction of water, from areas known as water resource plan areas. These areas are usually 2 or more water sources. This limit is known as the sustainable diversion limit and again applies to all forms of water take in the water resource plan area.

Floodplain harvesting is a recognised form of take in both annual extraction limits in water sharing plans and the sustainable diversion limit in the Basin Plan. There are no separate limits for floodplain harvesting, it is simply one component of all take. The more water taken by one form of take, the less available for the rest, in order to stay within these limits.

Licensing will ensure that limits on take and measurement requirements, apply to floodplain harvesting, enabling monitoring and management of floodplain harvesting. For example, licenced allocations can be reduced if required, to comply with legal limits on extraction. Licensing will bring floodplain harvesting into line with other forms of take and provide certainty in the provision of water required for the environment and other water users.

Without licensing, floodplain harvesting may continue unconstrained as it has for the last 30 years, impacting other water users and the environment.