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Changes to water legislation

Changes to a number of provisions in the Water Act 2000 started on 6 December 2016.

The key changes are:

  • Ensuring the purpose of the Act includes the sustainable management of water resources and quarry materials
  • Removing provisions that allow for water development options to be granted for large water projects
  • Removing provisions that allow water to be taken from particular designated watercourses without a water entitlement
  • Allowing new access to water for low risk activities without a need for an entitlement
  • Simplified water licensing processes
  • More streamlined and flexible water planning processes to deliver the benefits of planning more efficiently
  • Establishing a framework for managing the underground water impacts associated with the resources sector
  • Transitioning water rights under special agreement acts into Water Act entitlements.

Other changes were made for clarity and to support effective and efficient operations.

Sustainable management

The water law changes ensure that decisions about the planning, allocation and use of water resources and the allocation of quarry materials continue to be for the purpose of ‘sustainable management’ and take into account the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

This ensures that, for example, such decisions promote the efficient use of water, integrate both short and long-term economic, social, environmental and equitable factors, and facilitate community participation in planning for the management and allocation of water.

Water development options

The water law changes remove provisions that had not yet started but would have allowed for the granting of water development options.

Removing these provisions prevents commitments being made for large scale water infrastructure project of future access to water with limited upfront consultation and science.

There are existing mechanisms within the Act to support large scale infrastructure projects in a sustainable manner. For example, a number of water plans set aside unallocated water reserves specifically for major water infrastructure projects.

In water plan areas where there is no unallocated water reserved in an area for a project, the Act allows the Minister to review or amend a water plan, informed by science and consultation, to make water available for development.

Designated watercourses

The water law changes remove provisions that had not yet started but would have allowed for water to be taken from a designated watercourse without any requirement for a water entitlement or permit.

Low risk activities

A water entitlement (water licence, interim water allocation or water allocation) or water permit is not required to take water from rivers, creeks or bores for particular activities that are exempted under the Act or for prescribed activities under the Water Regulation 2016. These  include new activities where the take of water is considered ‘low risk’ of having an effect on water users or the environment, and are therefore consistent with the sustainable management of water resources.

In some instances, the water planning process or the regulation can limit the water taken, for example through setting volumetric limits.

Water licensing

The Water Act now has two pathways for water licence transactions:

  1. administrative dealings
  2. water resource allocation dealings

The new streamlined approach will reduce processing times and costs to our clients and government by fast tracking routine administrative dealings for existing water licences and allowing multiple dealings through one application.

Any applications for new water licences and dealings with existing licences that have the potential to impact on other water users, water resources or the environment are considered water resource allocation dealings. These dealings will undertake a full and rigorous assessment including a public notification  and submission process.

Water planning

A new water planning framework is now in place that provides a simpler, more responsive approach so that water planning is more adaptable to changes in community water needs and expectations, innovative solutions to water supplies, and new science.

These changes will not affect existing entitlements or the rules that currently apply to them. The change is to the documents in which they are written, and to the way they can be changed in the future.

Underground water management

Changes to water laws provide a more consistent approach for managing the underground water impacts of both the mining and petroleum and gas (P&G) sectors.

The changes provide holders of a mining lease (ML) or a mineral development licence (MDL) with a statutory right to take or interfere with ‘associated water’.

Mining companies that take or interfere with groundwater under this right will be subject to the obligations that currently apply to the P&G sector under Chapter 3 of the Act. This means landholders whose water bores are affected by the take of associated water will be protected by statutory certainty  that companies will have to enter ‘make good’ agreements.

The statutory right to take or interfere with associated water will apply to existing projects already taking associated water. For new projects, it will apply from grant on tenure after upfront environmental assessment of underground water extraction through the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

Transitional arrangements have been included in the Mineral Resources Act 1989 and the Water Act 2000 for mining projects that have proceeded part way, or completely through the approval process to provide for a separate associated water licencing process.

Special agreement acts

The Act now provides a process to transition water rights that have been afforded under special agreement acts into contemporary water entitlements under the Act. The process to transition these rights is through negotiation with companies that hold such rights. Bringing water rights into contemporary  arrangements provides certainty for the sustainable management of water and provides greater certainty for companies through clear, well-defined and secure water entitlements.

Other changes

The Water Regulation 2016 has replaced the Water Regulation 2002. The new regulation continues many of the existing arrangements along with changes to implement the new water planning framework, including:

  • Establishing generic criteria for converting water allocations
  • Providing for water allocation dealings and the process for seasonal water assignments
  • Providing for Minister’s reporting requirements on water plans
  • Providing for the effect of land dealings on water licences
  • Allows for unallocated water to be reserved outside of a water plan
  • Providing the works requirements for taking or interfering with water
  • Includes additional prescribed activities where a water entitlement or permit is not required.

Some changes to water laws commenced on 22 November 2016 as follows:

  • to clarify the operation and formation of River Improvement Trusts
  • to validate the formation of the Lower Herbert Water Management Authority
  • to validate past dewatering of existing operating mines in regulated areas.

How the changes were made

These water law changes came in the form of the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014, Water Legislation Amendment Act 2016 and the Environmental Protection (Underground Water Management) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2016.

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Last updated: 27 September 2017

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines 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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