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Changes to water legislation

Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act

The Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (WROLA Act) was passed on 26 November 2014. This act includes a number of changes to the Water Act 2000 and other resource related legislation.

A number of WROLA Act provisions commenced in December 2014, February 2015 and September 2015. They are listed below.

A strategy has been developed to align the remaining WROLA Act provisions with Government policy as follows:

  • the automatic commencement of the WROLA Act has been postponed by one year to December 2016. For more information  refer to the WROLA (Postponement) Regulation 2015 (PDF).
  • some provisions are being changed for consistency with Government policy through the Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (the Bill).
  • some provisions, while consistent with policy, can't start until the Bill is passed.

Water Legislation Amendment Bill

The Bill was introduced to Parliament in November 2015. It will amend the WROLA Act, which amended the Water Act.

  • The Bill proposes to reinstate the principles of ecologically sustainable development in the Water Act; omit the provisions for water development options, and remove provisions to declare a designated watercourse.
  • The Bill also proposes other changes to ensure the smooth transition from the current Water Act into the amended Water Act.
Ecologically sustainable development
  • The WROLA Act included a new purpose of the Water Act that did not expressly articulate the principles of ecologically sustainable development.
  • To address this, the Bill explicitly reinstates the principles of ecologically sustainable development, and replaces the term 'responsible and productive management' with 'sustainable management' throughout the Water Act.
  • The principles of ecologically sustainable development are intended to be incorporated in the meaning of 'sustainable management'. Sustainable management under the Water Act primarily relates to management of Queensland's water resources and quarry material by establishing a system for the planning, allocation and use of water, the allocation of quarry material and riverine protection. The system for the planning, allocation and use of water, the allocation of quarry material and riverine protection will be provided through chapters 1A (Water supply emergencies and restrictions) and chapter 2 (Management and allocation of water) of the Water Act.
Water development option
  • The Bill omits all provisions for water development options. These provisions would allow the granting of an option to proponents of large scale developments that gave a commitment of future access to water independent of a water planning process.
  • Omitting the provisions addresses some stakeholder concerns about the underpinning science and consultation process. It also addresses concerns about the potential risks to the Great Barrier Reef, and potential over-allocation of water resources.
Designated watercourse provisions
  • The Bill omits provisions for the chief executive to declare a designated watercourse. These provisions would remove the requirement for a water licence or permit to take or interfere with water from a designated watercourse.
  • Omitting the provisions responds to some stakeholder concerns about the transparency and appropriateness of water resource regulation.

Other changes

  • The Bill proposes to allow the chief executive to determine whether a tenure is considered to be within a cumulative management area in instances where a tenure is only partially within the area. The Bill makes no other changes to the underground water framework for managing impacts associated with resource sector development.
  • The Bill also proposes to provide more flexible publishing requirements for licence applications, to reduce costs for the applicant and make information about applications more readily accessible.
  • Some minor changes are also included in the Bill to ensure the effective operation of the new provisions.

The Bill also includes minor operational amendments to the River Improvement Trust Act 1940 as well as to the Water Act to validate the formation of the Lower Herbert Water Management Authority.

WROLA Act provisions yet to start

The remainder of the WROLA Act provisions that relate to water allocation and management are considered consistent with government policy, but can't start until the Bill is passed as they are intrinsically linked to the changes proposed in the Bill.

These include:

  • the reform of the water planning framework to ensure a more efficient and streamlined planning process
  • the simplified water licence process which removes the need for routine dealings (e.g. to subdivide a water licence) that do not impact on the water resource to be assessed as if they were a new licence
  • provisions to transition special agreement act water rights into the Water Act, to bring water allocation and management for special agreement act companies under a single framework and provide greater certainty for water planning activities
  • expanding the existing suite of statutory authorisations for the take and interference with water for certain low risk activities with appropriate checks and balances
  • The WROLA Act's provisions relating to the underground water framework for managing impacts associated with resource sector development will commence on a date to be determined. Therefore, the Bill does not deal with the framework other than an operational amendment (refer other changes).

Next steps

The Bill was scrutinised by a Parliamentary Committee and a report issued in March 2016

More information about the committee process is available on the Queensland Parliament website.

The Bill remains before Queensland Parliament for further consideration and debate.


WROLA Act provisions already commenced

The following Act provisions commenced on 19 December 2014:

  • amendments to the River Improvement Trust Act 1940 to:
    • introduce more flexibility into the process for determining the membership of a trust in situations where it is necessary to establish a trust incorporating several local government areas or parts of government areas into a river trust area
    • broaden the scope of activities that river improvement trusts may undertake to better manage river erosion, sediment loss and water quality
    • simplify reporting requirements for river improvement trusts
  • amendments to the Water Resource (Burnett Basin) Plan 2014 to ensure that there is no further expansion of non-riparian stock and domestic take within water supply scheme areas in the area of the Burnett Basin plan.

The following Act provisions commenced on 18 February 2015:

  • more flexible administrative and reporting requirements for the operation of category 2 water authorities which support the transition of the authorities to alternative institutional structures.

The following Act provisions commenced on 11 September 2015.

Watercourse identification map

A new map is available showing the extent of mapped watercourses, drainage features across the state. The map provides a user-friendly, consistent and state-wide mechanism for spatially recording the extent of these features.

Onus of proof

The amendment places the onus of proof on the department in instances of unauthorised take of water. The department has to prove guilt, rather than the authorisation holder proving their innocence, ensuring that standard prosecution principles apply.

Drainage and embankment areas

The amendment removes the provisions for the declaration and management of drainage and embankment areas. The provisions are no longer necessary given these areas are managed under riverine protection exemption guidelines or the levee regulation framework.

Public notices

The amendment changes the definition of 'publish' in the Water Act 2000 to provide greater flexibility when deciding publishing requirements for information and public notices, making it easier to find information.

For example, publishing public notices online will allow interested parties to access all public notices in one location, as opposed to searching local newspapers, or radio broadcasts.

Amendments to the Great Artesian Basin Plan 

Changes have also been made to the Water Resource (Great Artesian Basin) Plan 2006 to set aside unallocated water in the Cape York area. The changes also enable a water licence to be granted to Toowoomba Regional Council to improve their security of water supply.

The remaining provisions of the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 are still under consideration by Government.


Water and Other Legislation Amendment Regulation

The Water and Other Legislation Amendment Regulation (No. 1) 2014 (WOLA Regulation 2014) was approved on 18 December 2014. It amends the Water Regulation 2002 and other subordinate legislation to support the amendments to the Act. Some provisions of the WOLA Regulation 2014 were commenced on 11 September 2015 by the Water and Other Legislation Amendment Regulation (No. 2) 2015. The remaining provisions of the WOLA Regulation 2014 will commence when the relevant provisions in the Act also commence.

Unallocated water

Provisions which establish a more flexible process for the release of unallocated water commenced on 11 September 2015.

The new process provides increased options, simplified processes and more flexibility for access to unallocated water. 

New methods of releasing unallocated water are now available, including a 'fixed price sale' which could occur in areas of low demand or for water remaining after a competitive release process.

An option of granting unallocated water for a 'particular purpose', such as for town water supplies is also available.

For more information on unallocated water view the Water for Queensland map.

Bluewater subartesian area

The Bluewater subartesian area (north of Townsville) has been replaced with the smaller Black River subartesian area.

Landholders outside the Black River area will no longer require a water licence to take groundwater.

Some landowners who do not have access to a reticulated water supply in the Black River area will no longer require a water licence for stock and domestic purposes.

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Last updated: 2 June 2016


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