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.

Water access licences

WaterNSW is responsible for water access licences and associated approvals required by:

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

Licences for major water users

The Department of Planning and Environment licenses major water users including:

  • 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
  • state significant development of state significant infrastructure.

How to help stop illegal water activities

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is an independent regulator responsible for compliance and enforcement with water management legislation. NRAR engages with water users, industry bodies, government departments and the wider community on matters relating to water compliance.

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.

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