Access the information and resources you need to understand water licensing in NSW.

Water access licences

A water access licence (WAL) from WaterNSW is generally required to extract water from rivers or aquifers to use for irrigation, industrial or commercial purposes.

The Water Management Act 2000 governs the issue of WALs and approvals for water sources (rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwater) in New South Wales where water sharing plans have commenced.

Water access licences entitle licence holders:

  • to specified shares in the available water within a particular water management area or water source (the share component)
  • to take water at specified times, rates or circumstances from specified areas or locations (the extraction component).

Water sharing plans establish rules for sharing water between the environmental needs of the river or aquifer and water users, and between different types of water use such as domestic supply, stock watering, industry and irrigation.

In order to take water for a particular purpose, you may need to obtain a WAL nominating a water supply work. For more information, go to Approvals.

Features of water access licence

The Water Management Act 2000 recognises that a WAL is a valuable asset. WALs under the Water Management Act 2000:

  • provide a clearly defined entitlement listed on a public WAL Register that is separate from land ownership
  • separate the entitlement to access water from the approvals associated with water supply works and the use of water.

'Continuing' WALs provide:

  • a clearly defined right to a share of the available work in a particular water source
  • increased opportunities to trade water through the separation of land and water rights.

Categories of a water access licence

WAL categories help define the priorities between different WALs, the conditions that apply to them and, in the case of specific purpose category WALs, define how water may be used. They include:

  • regulated river (high security)
  • regulated river (general security)
  • regulated river (conveyance)
  • unregulated river
  • aquifer (groundwater)
  • estuarine water
  • coastal water
  • supplementary water
  • major utility
  • local water utility
  • domestic and stock.

Subcategories of any category of WAL may be prescribed by the regulations.

Applications may be made for the following specific purpose WALs (subject to any restrictions contained in a relevant management plan) as follows:

Category of access licence: Domestic and stock
Subcategory: Domestic
Purpose: Domestic consumption

Category of access licence: Unregulated river
Subcategory: Town water supply
Purpose: Supply to communities for domestic consumption and commercial activities

Category of access licence: Regulated river (high security)
Subcategory: Town water supply
Purpose: Supply to communities for domestic consumption and commercial activities

Category of access licence: Aquifer
Subcategory: Town water supply
Purpose: Supply to communities for domestic consumption and commercial activities

Note: Applications made by Department of Industry - Water customers (i.e. major utilities, water supply authorities, government agencies) for WAL categories - Aboriginal cultural, local water utility, licences under the Mining Act and floodplain harvesting, will need to apply to the Department of Industry - Water.

Security interests (such as mortgages) cannot be registered over specific purpose licences.

Tenure of water access licences

The reference to ‘tenure’ on a WAL certificate indicates the duration of the WAL. A WAL ceases to be in force on the cancellation date as recorded on the WAL Register.

  • A ‘continuing’ WAL is granted in perpetuity, which means it does not need to be renewed. It is typically used for a commercial purpose such as irrigation or industrial use. ‘Continuing’ water WALs include supplementary WALs issued for regulated rivers.
  • A ‘specific purpose’ WAL (e.g. for town water or domestic and stock purposes) must be cancelled when the purpose for which the WAL was issued ceases.

Irrespective of the type of tenure, a WAL can be suspended or cancelled if there is a breach of the WAL conditions or other non-compliance.

The water access licence register and certificates

The WAL Register has a separate record for each WAL issued (called a WAL folio). The online register is administered by NSW Land Registry Services (NSW LRS).

When WaterNSW approves a WAL, it is the responsibility of the applicant to present the notification to NSW LRS to register the WAL on the WAL Register. A fee is charged by NSW LRS. For more information visit NSW LRS website.

NSW LRS issues a duplicate of the WAL folio called the WAL certificate to the licence holder, or any other party entitled to hold the WAL certificate (e.g. a mortgagee). In the case of a former joint water supply authority, where there are a number of separate holders and registered interests, certificates will only be issued where all parties agree on who should hold it.

WAL certificates are valuable legal documents which should be stored carefully. Usually, a new WAL certificate, or edition of the certificate, is generated each time a new dealing is registered.

For more detailed information, go to the Registrar General's Directions website.

Changes to information on the WAL Register about the WAL holder (through a transfer of a WAL) and security interests (such as mortgages or caveats over the WAL and any term transfer arrangements) are managed directly by NSW LRS. The lodgement forms can be obtained from the NSW LRS website.

Changes as a result of other water dealings (e.g. subdivisions, change of location or WAL category) must be approved by WaterNSW before they can be registered on the WAL Register. For application forms and guides, see Applications and fees.

Components included in a water access licence certificate

The WAL Register and WAL certificates include the names of the WAL holder/s, type of tenancy if more than one holder, category of WAL, encumbrances, any water dealings (except water allocation) and the WAL details such as the share component, extraction component and nominated works.

For more information on these components of WALs, see Guide to the components of water access licence certificates (PDF, 605.14 KB).

Apply for a new water access licence

Most water sharing plans allow for applications for the following categories of water access licences (WALs):

  • Specific purpose WAL. For information on estimating how much water you need for domestic and stock purposes go to How much water do I need? (PDF, 244.5 KB)
  • WALs with a zero share component. This allows you to have a water allocation account and to buy or transfer allocation water on an annual basis or share component from another WAL holder.

When can I take water?

A new WAL becomes legally effective only when it is registered by NSW Land Registry Services (NSW LRS) on the WAL Register.

A water allocation account will be established for the new WAL.

If an available water determination has been made, water will be credited to the account. However, water will only be credited to an account for a zero share WAL once you have purchased account water or a share component from another WAL holder.

WAL holders can only take water if:

  • the water allocation account for that WAL is in credit (either by an available water determination credit or a water allocation assignment - formerly known as a temporary trade) and
  • the water is taken through a water supply work nominated on that WAL.

Key steps

to issuing a water access licence Certificate

Processing the application

If the application is completed, it will be registered by WaterNSW.

The application will be checked and assessed against the water sharing plan rules applicable to the relevant water source and provisions of the Water Management Act 2000 and Water Management (General) Regulation 2018. You can obtain a copy of the water sharing plan from the NSW Legislation website.

Assessment may require consultation with Native Title representatives or local Aboriginal groups. The assessment officer will also check that, in the case of a specific purpose licence, you have the required approvals or have applied for these, and that the volume of water sought is reasonable for the proposed purpose.

WaterNSW will either grant the application with appropriate conditions or refuse it.

Notice of determination

WaterNSW will advise you by letter of the result of your application, known as the notice of determination. If your application has been approved the notice will include the conditions that will apply to the licence.

Registering the WAL with NSW Land Registry Services

If an application for a new WAL is granted, it is the responsibility of the applicant to present the notification to NSW LRS to register the WAL on the WAL Register. A fee is charged by NSW LRS.

Issue of the WAL certificate

After registration, NSW LRS will issue the WAL certificate to the WAL holder. It is important to keep the WAL certificate in a safe place as you will need to produce it if you wish to sell your WAL or amend it later. For more information, read the Guide to water access licences and certificates (PDF, 605.14 KB).

NSW Land Registry Services

The WAL Register maintained by NSW LRS provides more detailed information about every WAL in NSW.

No longer need your water access licence?


How do I surrender my water access licence?

  • Complete an application and ensure it is signed by all holders.
  • Ensure any security interests (mortgage charges or caveats) have been discharged or withdrawn.
  • Ensure all outstanding water charges have been paid.

Forms and guides

Please read the guide before completing the application.

For more information, contact our Customer Service centre.

The online NSW Water Register maintained by WaterNSW provides some information on WALs and other consents and activities under the Water Management Act 2000, including:

  • WAL conditions
  • available water determinations
  • water trading statistics including water allocation assignments (formerly known as temporary trades) and assignment of shares (formerly known as permanent trades)
  • summaries by water source of number of WALs, available water determinations and water usage.

Use the NSW Water Register to check if your Water Act 1912 licence has been converted to a Water Management Act 2000 licence, or search for information about a water licence or approval.

Security interests

Security interests relating to a 'prior' licence under the Water Act 1912.

A security interest may be a mortgage or charge.

A mortgage is typically held over land. The mortgagee (e.g. a bank) will have the power to sell the mortgaged land if the mortgagor (e.g. the landowner) defaults on the mortgage. Mortgages may be registered on the Real Property Act Register, otherwise known as the Land Titles Register.

A charge may only be held against a corporation and is registered on the Corporations Act register administered by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission. This register is commonly known as the ASIC register.

Security interests under the Water Management Act 2000

Under the Water Management Act 2000, security interests may be registered directly against a Water Access Licence (WAL) on the WAL Register administered by NSW Land Registry Services (NSW LRS).

Under the licence conversion provisions of the Water Management Act 2000, a security interest (registered or unregistered) that relates to a 'prior' licence under the Water Act 1912 is taken to be a security interest against the replacement WAL.

For more information about security interests and WALs, refer to the encumbrances section in the Guide to WALs and certificates (PDF, 605.14 KB).

Registering new security interests

If you want to register a new security interest against a WAL on the WAL Register, you must lodge the 'dealing' directly with NSW LRS.

Converting existing security interests

A person holding a security interest in relation to a prior licence needs to indicate whether they want that interest registered against the replacement WAL on the WAL Register. This needs to be done in the three-year period. After the three-year period, all unclaimed prior licence interests are extinguished.

WaterNSW will then instruct NSW LRS to allow registration of WAL dealings and the WAL certificate is released. A certificate is needed to buy or sell water (through 'dealings').

Converting security interests if you are a water access licence holder

As a holder of a WAL, you may want to buy, sell or change your replacement WAL by a WAL dealing within the three-year period for registering prior licence interests. To do this, you will need to initiate and complete the resolution of the prior licence interests. This means you will need to:

  • determine the details of the prior licence interests
  • request those interest holders to nominate whether they want the interest registered
  • lodge the interest holder responses with WaterNSW.

WaterNSW can then instruct NSW LRS to register the 'claimed' interests and release the WAL for dealings.

You can use the WAL Number Search in the online Security Interest Conversion system to identify prior licence interests in your WAL.

To register a prior licence interest in your WAL:

Converting security interests if you are a security interest holder

Prior licence security interests will be registered by WaterNSW on request within three years of the commencement date of the WAL, providing that:

  1. the security interest holder has notified the WAL holder of their intent to register the interest, and the 90-day notice period has lapsed
  2. the security interest holder certifies that they have undertaken step 1.

The wording of the notice to the WAL holder must comply with the Mortgagee notice of registration of security interest issue to WAL holders template (PDF, 92.91 KB).

Note that a security interest holder is exempt from this requirement if the licence holder requests WaterNSW, in writing, to have the security interest registered on your behalf. This will typically happen when the WAL holder wants to undertake a dealing before three years expires and before the prior licence interests are resolved by the interest holders.

Security interest holders can use the WAL Number Search in the online Security Interest Conversion system.

Security interest holders can also apply for access to use the Security Interest Conversion system to search for all replacement WALs in which the user may have a prior licence interest and, once the 90-day notification process is complete, lodge claims online with WaterNSW.

To apply for access, go to the Security Interest Conversion system and complete the online request by email to seek approval for login and password access.

Alternatively, security interest holders can lodge a request to register a prior licence interest by completing the Request to register a security interest in a replacement WAL or notify that no security interest exists (initiated by security interest holder) form (PDF, 143.09 KB).

Converting security interests relating to 'prior' Water Act 1912 licences

When a water sharing plan commences under the Water Management Act 2000, licences issued under the Water Act 1912 are converted to WALs (and approvals). The conversion is completed with the issue of a WAL certificate. A certificate is needed to buy or sell water through dealings.

The Water Management Act 2000 provides that any security interest on a land attaching to a 'prior' licence under the Water Act 1912 continues as an equivalent interest in the replacement WAL. The party holding that interest needs to indicate whether they wish to register it on the WAL register against the replacement WAL. They will generally have three years from the commencement of the replacement WAL to lodge their claim. Any interests which have not been claimed within that time period are extinguished.

Once all prior interests are resolved (registered or repudiated) the certificate is issued. In the case of a licence with a security interest, the certificate is typically issued to the holder of a security interest.

Apply for a search for water related interests

To request a search for water related interests held under the Water Management Act 2000:

1. Complete the Application for a search for water-related interests form (PDF, 246.13 KB)

2. Pay the application fee identified in the following table of fees by either:
calling WaterNSW on 1300 662 077 and providing your credit card details or enclosing a cheque for the application fee, made out to WaterNSW, when posting the hard copy application form.

3. Submit the completed and signed application form by:

An application will not be processed until the application fee has been received by WaterNSW.

Fees for a water related interest inquiry vary depending on the processing time frame you require are listed below.

Fees for a water related interest enquiry

Solicitor's enquiries
Normal pricing (up to 10 days) $168
Urgent (less than 10 days including within 24 hrs)* $337

* If you require priority or urgent processing of the application, email the completed form and pay the application fee by phoning us with your credit card details.

Constructing a bore

Groundwater is a complex and often very fragile resource which plays an important role in natural ecosystems.

Groundwater sources (also known as aquifers) can be accessed by different works such as a bore, well, spear point or excavation. An approval must be held to construct any of these works.

Why is an approval required?

Licensing groundwater works, and monitoring the levels of extraction, helps us to sustainably manage our groundwater sources, protecting their quality and the ecosystems that depend on them.

Data gained from drilling a bore is collated in a database of groundwater works in NSW which provides information on the location, quantities and quality of water in the aquifer and the local geology.

Existing groundwater records

Records on existing groundwater works, including bores, wells and excavations can be found at Australian Groundwater Explorer and Real Time Data.

Applying for a groundwater approval

The Water Management Act 2000 requires landholders to hold:

Engaging a driller

If you are engaging a driller, you are responsible for ensuring that the bore is drilled by a person who holds a current NSW driller's licence. Additionally, the licence class must be appropriate for the type of drilling to be undertaken.

For information on water access licence dealings in water sources managed by groundwater sharing plans, go to Dealings and trade.

Go to top

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