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The planning process

The water planning process is designed to manage the allocation and sustainable management of water to meet Queensland’s current and future water needs.

The new water planning process

A new water planning framework has been introduced to the Water Act 2000 (Water Act) by the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (WROLA Act). The new planning framework is delivered through new documents which replace the previous water resource plans and resource operations plans.

The new water planning framework continues the catchment and underground water area based approach to water planning as the previous framework, but now uses different documents to deliver the water planning outcomes. The changes are designed to make the water planning process more flexible and more efficient in its delivery of planning outcomes making it better able to respond to stakeholder and community needs.

Not all documents are new as some are based on documents from the previous water planning framework but their role has been expanded. The new or expanded water planning documents include:

  • Water Regulation 2016 (existing and expanded)
  • Water plans (existing and expanded)
  • Water entitlement notice (new)
  • Water management protocols (new)
  • Resource operations licences and distribution operations licences (existing and expanded)
  • Operations manual (new).

Read about how the changes to the water planning framework affect water planning activities in each catchment.

Water plans

Water plans replace water resource plans. They are developed through technical and scientific assessment as well as extensive community consultation, to determine the appropriate balance between the economic, social and environmental demands on the state’s water resources.

Generally, a water plan will apply to a catchments rivers, lakes, dams, overland flow and springs and, where necessary, underground water. Or sometimes, only underground water. In developing a plan, the size and nature of the resource is assessed to ensure that water is allocated within sustainable limits.

Issues addressed in a water plan include:

  • Water covered by the plan—surface water and/or underground water
  • General, economic, social and ecological outcomes—targeting a sustainable balance between water users (including social and cultural uses) and the environment, while recognising that the natural state of some watercourses, lakes and springs has changed due to water infrastructure, flow supplementation and the take of water
  • Measures—a new feature introduced by the WROLA Act aimed at providing guidance on how certain outcomes may be achieved while maximising the flexibility to do so
  • Strategies—specific approaches for achieving the desired outcomes
  • Performance indicators—to provide security for water entitlements and protection of defined environmental assets
  • Defining the amount of water available for consumptive purposes—identifying the amount of water available for town water supply, industry and agriculture
  • Defining the amount of water for future use—the amount of water (if any) available for future allocation
  • Specification of water management areas—and trading zones (this function was previously performed by resource operations plans)
  • Criteria for deciding water licence applications (also a function often previously performed by resource operations plans).

A consultative process

Consultation is integral to the water resource planning process. Regional communities, industry, local government and other stakeholders, including conservationists and indigenous groups, all have a role to play, and their input is sought in the planning process.

Expert advice

Technical assessments are prepared to provide expert advice on relevant social, economic and environmental factors. The scientific advice is fully considered in developing a water plan.

Renewal and replacement

A finalised water plan applies for 10 years after which the plan must be reviewed and replaced or extended for up to a maximum of 10 additional years if the plan is determined to be appropriate for the plan area.

A water plan may also be replaced if its outcomes are not being achieved, or its objectives are no longer appropriate for the plan area. The goal is to see continual improvement as the planning cycle progresses.

Implementing water plans: water management protocol

A water management protocol is used to implement a water plan and details the roles and responsibilities of the chief executive implementing the water plan. They include specific rules and requirements that have been developed, based on robust science and in consultation with stakeholders, to achieve the outcomes stated in the water plan.

Key matters addressed by a water management protocol:

  • Unallocated water—if provided for by the water plan, the volumes of unallocated water reserved for stated purposes or stated locations and where applicable a process for releasing unallocated water.
  • Water sharing rules for unsupplemented water—rules designed to provide equitable sharing of water between water users.
  • Water dealing rules (water trading rules)—to encourage the efficient use of water and ensure trading does not adversely affect water allocation security or environmental flow objectives.
  • Seasonal water assignment rules—temporary water trading rules for the seasonal trading of unsupplemented water allocations. As with the water allocation dealing rules these encourage the efficient use of water while ensuring trading does not adversely affect water allocation security or environmental flow objectives.

Implementing water plans: resource operations licences, distribution operations licences and operations manuals

Resource and distribution operations licences detail the roles and responsibilities of scheme operators (supplemented water) to achieve the outcomes of the associated water plan. They include specific conditions that address matters such as:

  • Infrastructure details—the infrastructure used to operate the scheme.
  • Watercourse authorised to be used for distribution of water to water users.
  • Environmental management rules—rules to achieve ecological outcomes and typically relating to when and how releases need to be made from scheme infrastructure to meet environmental flow requirements.
  • Monitoring and reporting requirements—rules outline what needs to be monitoring and reported to the department.
  • A requirement for the licence holder to prepare an operations manual.

An operations manual includes the day to day operation rules for the associated scheme and must be approved by the chief executive. They typically include the following:

  • Water releases from dams—ensuring that infrastructure is operated efficiently providing flows for industry, agriculture and town water supply.
  • Water sharing rules—rules designed to provide equitable sharing of water between water users supplied by the scheme.
  • Seasonal assignment rules—temporary trading rules for the seasonal trading of supplemented water allocations. As with the water allocation dealing rules these encourage the efficient use of water while ensuring trading does not adversely affection water allocation security or environmental flow objectives.

Implementing water plans: water entitlement notices

A water entitlement notice is used to convert, grant, amend as well as refuse and cancel or repeal (in certain situations) entitlements. This notice replaces the conversion, granting and amending schedules in resource operations plans prepared under the previous framework. Like those schedules in a resource operations plan, these are temporary documents that cease to have effect after the function of the notice has been carried out.

As a separate instrument, a water entitlement notice is able to perform its functions independent of the development of other implementation instruments. Thereby enabling faster conversion, granting and amending of entitlement during the water planning process.

Water users affected by the notice will be able to submit on the notice before it is finalised. It maintains the transparency and natural justice opportunities provided by a resource operations plan under the previous framework, including opportunity for independent advice to be provided to the department from a referral panel.

Water Regulation 2016

In addition to the above new and expanded plan area specific documents, the role of the Water Regulation 2016 which replaces the Water Regulation 2002, has been expanded to take a greater role in supporting the water planning process. Specifically the regulation now:

  • allows for unallocated water to be reserved outside of a water plan, in addition to prescribing the process for releasing unallocated water
  • establishes generic criteria for converting water allocations
  • provides for water allocation dealings and the process for seasonal water assignments
  • provides for Minister’s reporting requirements on water plans
  • provides the works requirements for taking or interfering with water
  • includes additional prescribed activities where a water entitlement or permit is not required.

Water trading

Water trading rules are set out in the water management protocol and operations manuals allowing for the temporary (seasonal) and permanent trade of water. The rules are developed to support outcomes detailed in the water plan and ensure that overall planning objectives are met.

Water management protocols now include operational matters such as water sharing and trading rules applicable to specific water management areas in a water plan area.  

Stakeholder input

As a part of developing water plans, water management protocols and water entitlement notices the department will invite submissions and comment from  stakeholders.

Under the Water Act 2000 the chief executive of the department may establish an independent referral panel to review and provide recommendations on a range of water planning matters. However, provisions also state that the chief executive must establish a referral panel under certain circumstances, such as disputes about operations manual approvals and submissions about draft water entitlement notices. The Minister may also direct the chief executive to establish a referral panel in relation to applications to vary the effect of a moratorium notice.

When the referral panel meets to review matters, panel members consider:

  • submissions/ applications
  • information provided by the department e.g. papers summarising the key issues
  • other information the panel considers necessary in its deliberations e.g. technical data
  • the context of the planning instruments and legislative framework e.g. water plan, Water Act.

The panel must remain independent (i.e. not influenced by either departmental staff or applicants) and provide unbiased recommendations for the sustainable management of water.

Depending on the nature of the matter, the panel’s recommendations are provided to either the chief executive or the Minister for their consideration in making the final decision.

Ensuring the water plan works

The effectiveness of the water plan and its associated implementation instruments are assessed over the life of the water plan and reported in accordance with the Water Act in Minister’s reports on water plans. These reports include:

  • whether the plan is advancing the sustainable management of Queensland’s water resources
  • an assessment of the effectiveness of the implementation of the plan in achieving the plan’s outcomes
  • information on water use and authorisations in the plan area
  • a summary of the findings of research and monitoring for the plan
  • any identified risks to the plan’s outcomes
  • any non-compliance under a water entitlement or other authorisation in the plan area.

The water planning framework is supported by water monitoring activities that include water quality monitoring, stream flow monitoring and environmental monitoring programs such as the environmental flows assessment program (EFAP). EFAP provides the science to inform an assessment of how water planning instruments are providing for ecological outcomes. EFAP research and monitoring contributes to a growing knowledge base of best available science. This information is a vital component of the water planning framework in the Water Act and is used to continually improve water resource planning.

Renewal and replacement

As subordinate legislation, a finalised water plan applies for 10 years after which the plan must be reviewed and either replaced or extended for up to 10 additional years if the review finds the outcomes of water plan remain appropriate for the plan area.

A water plan may be replaced if its outcomes are not being achieved, or its outcomes, measures, strategies and objectives are no longer appropriate for the plan area. The goal is to see continual improvement as the planning cycle progresses.

Contact us

Water Policy
Level 5, 1 William Street
GPO Box 2454
Brisbane QLD 4000

Email: WRP web coordinator


Last updated: 2 January 2018

The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy is an economic development agency that enables the productive and responsible use of our natural resources – water, land, mineral and energy resources – to generate wealth and prosperity for current and future generations of Queenslanders.

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