Water licensing

You need a water access licence to take water from rivers, lakes and aquifers in NSW. It is an offence to take water from a water source without a water access licence. Water theft is a serious crime.

The NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (NSW DCCEEW) and WaterNSW share the responsibility for granting and manager water licences and approvals in NSW.

Which entity you deal with depends on who you are and the type of licence or approval you need.

Licences for major water users

NSW DCCEEW is responsible for:

  • Controlled activity approvals for work on waterfront land, near a river, lake or estuary.
  • Controlled activity approvals refer to work or action done on waterfront land, as defined by the Water Management Act 2000. These activities must be designed in a way to protect our waterways and ensure minimal harm as a result of the work carried out on the land.

NSW DCCEEW controlled activity approvals

Water licences and approvals to extract groundwater or surface water that are required by or for:

  • councils
  • state or Commonwealth government agencies or authorities
  • major water utilities, water supply authorities or irrigation corporations
  • Aboriginal commercial, Aboriginal community development, Aboriginal cultural or Aboriginal environmental subcategories of access licence
  • licensed network operators under the Water Competition Act 2026 (NSW)
  • entities carrying out activities under the Mining Act 1992 (NSW), the Offshore Minerals Act 1999 (NSW), the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 (NSW) or the Petroleum (Offshore) Act 1982 (NSW)
  • state significant development of state significant Infrastructure.

NSW DCCEEW Water licensing and approvals 

Water access licences

WaterNSW is responsible for water licences and approvals to extract groundwater or surface water that are required by or for:

  • rural landholders
  • rural industries
  • developments which are not state-significant development or significant state infrastructure.

How to help stop illegal water activities

Water theft and harming a water source can threaten water supplies for legitimate waters users and harm the environment. These can be serious offences. 

Report suspicious water activities to the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR). 

NRAR is the independent regulator responsible for the enforcement of water laws in NSW through compliance monitoring and education. 

Top of page