Acts & regulations

Managing New South Wales water resources relies on a range of legislation, initiatives and cooperative arrangements with the Commonwealth and other state governments. The two key pieces of legislation for the management of water in NSW are the Water Management Act 2000 and the Water Act 1912.

Water Act 1912

The Water Act 1912 came into force at the turn of the last century and represented a different era in water management in NSW. This Act is being progressively phased out and replaced by the Water Management Act 2000, but some provisions are still in force.

Water Management Act 2000

The object of the Water Management Act 2000 is the sustainable and integrated management of the state's water for the benefit of both present and future generations. Passed in December 2000, this Act established a completely new statutory framework for managing water in NSW. For the first time, NSW had comprehensive water legislation to guide our water management activities.

The Water Management Act 2000 is based on the concept of ecologically sustainable development that will not threaten the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The Act recognises:

  • the fundamental health of our rivers and groundwater systems and associated wetlands, floodplains, estuaries has to be protected
  • the management of water must be integrated with other natural resources such as vegetation, soils and land
  • to be properly effective, water management must be a shared responsibility between the government and the community
  • water management decisions must involve consideration of environmental, social, economic, cultural and heritage aspects
  • social and economic benefits to the state will result from the sustainable and efficient use of water.

The Water Management Act 2000 was driven by the need for NSW to secure a sustainable basis for water management for several reasons:

  • NSW was at the limit of its available water resources – new licences for commercial purposes could no longer be issued across most of NSW and a limit had been placed on the total volume of water that could be extracted across the inland of NSW under the Murray–Darling Basin Cap.
  • The decline in the health of our rivers, groundwater, floodplains and estuaries was evident with increasing water quality problems, loss of species, wetland decline and habitat loss.

As a result, the Water Management Act 2000 recognises the need to allocate and provide water for the environmental health of our rivers and groundwater systems, while also providing licence holders with more secure access to water and greater opportunities to trade water through the separation of water licences from land. The main tool the Act provides for managing the state's water resources are water sharing plans. These are used to set out the rules for the sharing of water in a particular water source between water users and the environment and rules for the trading of water in a particular water source.

Because of the major changes required by the legislation, the Act has been progressively implemented. Since 1 July 2004 the new licensing and approvals system has been in effect in those areas of NSW covered by operational water sharing plans – these areas cover all of the state's inland rivers and aquifers and the majority of coastal rivers and aquifers. As water sharing plans are finalised and commenced for the rest of the state, the licensing provisions of the Act are introduced, extending the benefits for the environment of defined environmental rules and for licence holders of perpetual water licences and greater opportunities for water trading.

Since the legislation was passed in 2000, some amendments have been undertaken to better implement the new arrangements and to also give effect to other interstate and federal agreements and legislation.

Water Management Amendment Act 2014

The Water Management Amendment Act 2014 was passed by the NSW Parliament in late 2014. This Act changes some sections of the Water Management Act 2000 and adds some new sections.

The changes relate to a range of aspects of water management including planning, licensing and compliance.

Many of the provisions in the Act commenced on 1 January 2015. Some of the key changes are listed in the table below. Other provisions will be implemented later because further steps are required to implement them. For example, the commencement of some provisions requires new procedures or regulations.