Aquifer interference activities

What is an aquifer?

A groundwater system is any type of saturated sequence of rocks or sediments that allows groundwater to flow through the spaces between grains of sand, gravels and other alluvium or cracks in rocks. Thick sequences can store and transmit large volumes of groundwater, whilst others may only yield small quantities.

The term aquifer is commonly understood to mean a groundwater system that can yield useful volumes of groundwater. However, even if groundwater is only present some of the time, it remains an aquifer. This can occur when there has been little recharge, when the resource has been depleted, or when groundwater has percolated to underlying layers. If the groundwater is saline or if the groundwater system is low yielding, it is still considered to be an aquifer.

What is an aquifer interference activity

An aquifer interference activity is an activity that

  • penetrates an aquifer
  • interferes with groundwater in an aquifer
  • changes or obstructs groundwater flow in an aquifer
  • takes groundwater from an aquifer
  • disposes of water taken from an aquifer

The NSW Water Management Act 2000 identifies the scope of aquifer interference activities.

What kind of activities are included?

Many projects fall within the definition of aquifer interference activities. The NSW Aquifer Interference Policy (PDF 505.5 KB) discusses the requirements applying to aquifer interference activities.

High risk aquifer interference activities include:

  • mining activities (open cut and underground mines)
  • extractive industries (sand and gravel pits, dredging operations or quarries)
  • coal seam gas exploration and production
  • construction dewatering (buildings, transport projects or civil works)
  • injection works
  • potentially contaminating activities
  • activities that can damage the structural integrity of an aquifer.

How are aquifer interference activities licensed?

Aquifer interference activities need a water access licence if there is a take of groundwater, unless an exemption applies. The water access licence allows the activity to take a share of the groundwater source. This allows us to manage water resources within sustainable limits. Our licences web page has more information.

Works used in the taking of groundwater by an aquifer interference activity need an approval, unless an exemption applies. These could be one or more of a water supply work approval, flood work approval, water use approval, or controlled activity approval. Such approvals help us manage the local impacts of proposed activities on the aquifer, other users and the environment.

At this time, aquifer interference activity approvals are not available. See our approvals web page for more information.

Even if an exemption for a licence or approval applies, the taking of water from a water source has conditions to be complied with.

Guidance for groundwater investigations

We have developed a guideline for integrated development where excavation is required for a building project. The guideline describes the scope of groundwater investigations necessary. These investigations help us to assess the local impacts of a building project. They also help us to make recommendations to WaterNSW or the Natural Resources Access Regulator on licensing or approval conditions.

Access our guideline document (PDF 686.8 KB) 'minimum requirements for building site groundwater investigations and reporting'.