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Watercourses

Natural disasters such as floods and cyclones can significantly impact watercourses and adjacent landowner properties. Landowners can mitigate these impacts by carrying out certain activities in a watercourse to help prepare for and recover from a disaster.

The legal requirements for undertaking activities in a watercourse before, during and after an emergency or disaster are outlined below.

If the activity involves clearing native vegetation you should contact your local business centre before you start to find out whether the clearing is exempt or requires a permit or notification.

During an emergency

You can excavate or place fill in a watercourse, without further authority under the Water Act 2000 if there is an emergency involving:

  • the life or health of a person
  • water quality
  • the physical integrity of the watercourse.

For example, during a flood, swirling waters may be deeply eroding a bank and threatening serious loss of land or infrastructure. In this case, hard natural fill such as rocks and boulders can be added to the watercourse to prevent further erosion. When placing fill, take care to ensure it does not obstruct the flow of water and cause local flooding.

You must notify your local business centre of the activity as soon as practicable.

Preparing for and recovering from natural disasters

To prepare for or recover from a disaster, you can carry out activities to rehabilitate a watercourse or repair infrastructure in and around a watercourse.

You should plan all work to minimise potential impacts on the watercourse.

If the work involves excavating or placing fill in the watercourse, refer to the exemption requirements.

Removing debris 

You can remove debris (woody or otherwise) without an authorisation to help recover from a natural disaster. Debris may include dead tree branches and tree-trunks (i.e. woody debris), or objects such as building materials and other foreign matter.

If the quantity is not excessive, woody debris is often best left in the watercourse how it falls. This can help stabilise the stream bed and banks, provide variation in flow and habitats for plants and animals.

You may need to remove debris to reinstate a road crossing. Removing debris can also involve the removal of silt from pump holes and weirs, and the redistribution of excess sediment.

Ensure debris is disposed of outside the watercourse (i.e. outside the outer banks).

Rehabilitating a watercourse

Before rehabilitating a watercourse, you may first need to undertake work that involves excavating or placing fill in a watercourse.

These activities may only be carried out where a riverine protection permit has been granted or in accordance with the exemption requirements.

Examples of rehabilitation work that can be carried out under the exemption requirements include:

  • placing rocks or other natural fill in the watercourse to stop erosion or bank slumping
  • desilting waterholes
  • removing deposited sediments in, on or around road crossings, culverts or other infrastructure
  • redistributing accumulated sediment.

Ensure sediment is disposed of outside the watercourse (i.e. outside the outer banks).

Authorised water infrastructure

You can clear and desilt around infrastructure including pumps, weirs and dams. You do not need a permit where the clearing and desilting are an unavoidable part of repairing authorised infrastructure.

The work must be minor in nature and done in a way that minimises any potential damage.

Work to repair authorised infrastructure may include:

  • excavation and fill required to replace water pipes and pump suction pipes
  • excavation required to allow the operation of a pump (desilting a pumping hole).

River improvement trusts

River improvement trusts may carry out activities within a river improvement area to prepare for and recover from a disaster. Trusts may carry out activities to:

  • protect and improve rivers
  • repair and prevent damage to rivers
  • prevent or mitigate flooding.

A permit is not required under the Water Act 2000 provided the trust carries out the work in accordance with the River Improvement Trust Act 1940.

Find out more

For information on riverine protection permits or the exemption requirements contact your local business centre.

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Last updated: 14 December 2015


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