Basic landholder rights

Under the Water Management Act 2000, there are three types of basic landholder rights in NSW.

Domestic and stock rights

Owners or occupiers of land overlaying an aquifer or with river, estuary or lake frontage can take water without a licence for domestic (household) purposes or for stock watering.

Construction and use of basic landholder rights (BLR) bores

Under the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA), landholders can take water under basic landholder rights. Owners or occupiers of land which overlies an aquifer can take water for domestic consumption or stock watering.

  • Domestic consumption means the use of water for normal household purposes in domestic premises which are situated on the land.
  • Stock watering means the watering of stock animals being raised on the land. It does not include raising stock animals on an intensive commercial basis where the animals are housed or kept in feedlots or buildings.

Approvals required

To access water under basic landholder rights, landholders must obtain a water supply works approval to construct a bore, well or spearpoint. It is an offence under the WMA to construct or use a water supply work without an approval. Licensing groundwater works, and monitoring the levels of extraction, helps to sustainably manage groundwater sources, protecting their quality and the ecosystems that depend on them.

Agencies involved

WaterNSW is responsible for processing most water supply work approvals and issuing the approvals.

The NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (NSW DCCEEW) may in limited circumstances, undertake a hydrogeological assessment of the proposed bore and location. This ensures no more than minimal harm is caused to the water source and surrounding ecology. NSW DCCEEW is also responsible for licencing larger water users e.g. state significant developments, mining operations, irrigations corporations and government entities.

Health warning:  The landholder is responsible for ensuring that any water taken under a basic landholder right is safe and suitable to use. NSW Health warns that water from an aquifer can be contaminated with micro-organisms. This water should not be used for drinking or cooking without appropriate treatment.

How do I get approval to construct a BLR bore?

Step 1: Understand basic landholder rights

Step 2: Select and map your bore site

Step 4: Know your approval conditions

Step 5: Construct or decommission a bore

Harvestable rights

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The NSW Government has made recent amendments to coastal harvestable rights. As of September 2023, the harvestable rights limit for coastal-draining catchments has been returned to 10% of rainfall runoff (from 30%). Updates were also made to harvestable rights orders for coastal-draining and central-inland draining catchments to ensure they can be interpreted and applied as intended. For more information please visit the NSW DCCEEW website.

Harvestable rights allows landholders to capture and store a proportion of the rainfall runoff from their landholding in one or more harvestable rights dams without requiring a water access licence, water supply work approval, or water use approval.

Landholders in NSW can build harvestable rights dams on non-permanent minor streams, hillsides, or gullies (but not on or within 40 metres of a third-order or higher order stream) and capture a percentage of rainfall runoff from their landholding. For further information on where harvestable rights dams can be constructed view NSW DCCEEW Frequently Asked Questions or view the Harvestable rights dams - where can they be built factsheet.

Harvestable rights areas and how harvestable rights water can be used

The proportion of rainfall runoff that may be captured under harvestable rights, and how the water can be used depends upon where a landholding is located. In the:

  • coastal-draining and central inland-draining catchments harvestable rights area (previously part of the Eastern and Central Division) - up to 10% of the average annual regional rainfall runoff may be captured and used for any purpose.
  • Western Division - all rainfall runoff may be captured and used for any purpose.

The boundaries of the harvestable rights areas are shown in the map below - view large version.

NSW Harvestable Rights Areas Map
NSW Harvestable Rights Areas Map

Please note that in the coastal-draining and central inland-draining catchment areas certain provisions apply to mixed-rights dams. Mixed-rights dams are those which store harvestable rights water together which any other water that has been lawfully taken from a water source (such as under another form of basic landholder right, a water access licence or an exemption). For more information on the capacity and permitted water uses for mixed-rights dams - see the frequently asked questions.

For further information on the full set of rules and requirements for harvestable rights please refer to the NSW DCCEEW website.

Maximum harvestable right dam capacity calculator

The volume of water a landholder can capture and store under harvestable rights is expressed as a maximum harvestable right dam capacity (MHRDC).

The combined volume of all dams (or parts thereof) on a landholding that capture and store harvestable rights water cannot exceed the MHRDC.

To calculate the MHRDC, for a landholding, landholders must use the online Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator.

Please note the important information and ensure you keep a record of the results for monitoring and compliance purposes. A farm dams property assessment guide recording sheet PDF, 292.74 KB is available to record the results if required.

If you want to construct a dam that is larger than your MHRDC, you will need a water access licence to cover the volume of water that exceeds the MHRDC and you will need to hold an approval for the dam.

Approval and consent for dam construction

Dams built to capture and store harvestable rights water do not require a water access licence, water supply work approval or water use approval. However, other notifications, approvals or consents may be required as outlined below.

Fish passage
Under the Fisheries Management Act 1994, any new dam or modification to an existing dam may require the owner to provide for fish passage. All licensed works must be referred for assessment but dams not requiring a licence may still require fish passage. Contact your local NSW Department of Primary Industries Fisheries office for further advice.

Local planning regulations
In many local government areas, local environment plans and other planning regulations require consent for construction of dams. Contact your local council for further advice.

Other consents may also be required. For more information on consents, contact the Customer Service Centre.

Minimal impacts and erosion control
Seek expert advice regarding the dam design and location before commencing construction of any dam. Even if you do not require an approval for your dam, it is still your responsibility to minimise impacts on your neighbours and the environment. Discuss the matter with your neighbours before constructing a new dam.

Also ensure that during all stages of construction you provide adequate erosion control and minimise disturbance to waterways, areas of native vegetation, sites of cultural significance and avoid disturbing acid sulphate soils in coastal areas.

Native title

Anyone who holds native title with respect to water, as determined under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993, can take and use water for a range of personal, domestic and non-commercial purposes.

The Water Management Act 2000 recognises the cultural and spiritual importance of water to Aboriginal people in NSW. Anyone who holds native title with respect to water, as determined under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cwlth), can take and use water for a range of needs. These include personal, domestic and non-commercial communal purposes such as manufacturing traditional artefacts, hunting, fishing, recreation, cultural and ceremonial purposes.

For more information, visit the NSW DCCEEW website - Water for Aboriginal communities.

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WaterNSW acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we work and pay our respects to all elders past, present and emerging. Learn more