Water Licensing - Frequently Asked Questions

​​​​​​What is the difference between a water licence and a water allocation?

A water licence specifies where you are allowed to take water. This includes any river, stream, creek or in-stream dam within your property boundary that connects to other watercourses in the catchment.

You must have a water licence to take, trap or store water for the use of watering stock for commercial sale or for crop irrigation.

A water allocation states how much water can be taken in a given time period. You must also have a water allocation (specific megalitre limit stated on your licence) if you are intending to draw water from any water body other than an isolated land based dam for commercial farming purposes. Under Section 59 of the Water Management Act 1999 (WMA), conditions on a water allocation may relate to the area that the water is able to be taken from, the area the water is to be used on, the specific purpose for which the water may be used and/or that the water is only to be taken to fill a specific dam.

A water allocation can be obtained through application to the Minister, or by transferring water from another licence.

You can hold a water licence without necessarily having a water allocation but you cannot have a water allocation without holding a water licence.

Can I take water from my property for domestic use without a licence?

If your land includes the frontage of a lake or river, you have what are commonly referred to as "riparian rights". These rights are established by the WMA as "Part 5 Rights" and entitle you to take water for domestic use without a licence, provided you don't exceed your entitlements for domestic use e.g. water used to for stock or to water domestic gardens etc.

Riparian rights are solely for domestic purposes and do not allow you to irrigate a paddock of any size if the purpose is to graze animals or grow crops which will later be sold. Domestic use may also be restricted in summer by regional water restrictions.

For all other purposes, you will need to have a water licence. You also need a licence to take water for the above purposes if your property does not directly front onto river or lake or a riparian reserve.

Regulation 4 of the Water Management Regulations 2009 provides for the maximum amount of water to be taken under different uses that the Part 5 Right may be used. For example the regulation provides that where water is being taken to water sheep or goats, 8.5 litres per head per day can be taken without a licence.

The Water Management Regulations 2009 are available on the Tasmanian Legislation website: www.legislation.tas.gov.au

Do I need a water licence to farm?

Anyone who takes water for agricultural or other commercial purposes must have a water licence and allocation to do so (some exemptions apply). A water licence with an allocation is required for any irrigation from an in-stream dam.

Any person who takes water from a lake or river without a licence, or in greater quantity than the allocation permits, or in breach of the licence conditions, commits an offence. See the Water Management Regulations on the Tasmanian Legislation website for penalties: www.legislation.tas.gov.au

Under part 5 of the WMA a licence is not required for:
Stock and domestic use from these dams, but this water can only be accessed if you have a stream running through or bordering your property;
Water used for fire fighting; or
Surface water (water flowing over land and not in a watercourse);
    A licence is also not required for:
    Ground water unless from a specified "Groundwater Area" or where a Water Management Plan provides that a licence is required; or
    Small-scale generation of hydro-electricity.

    Do I need a water licence to collect water in a dam?

    A Dam Works Permit only covers you for the construction of the dam. A Water Licence may also be required if you intend to collect water into the dam directly from a stream or pump water into the dam from another water source .

    Special conditions must be added to a pre-existing water licence, if a new in-stream dam is constructed, based on the new dam's holding capacity. Extra conditions may incur added fees to your normal licence fee. Use of an existing licence to fill or top up a non in-stream dam is permissible if it does not violate the conditions of your water licence and/or water allocation.

    See Dam Works Permit Guidelines for more information.

    How do I get a water licence and how long will it take?

    Make an appointment with a consultant to discuss your proposal.  See the water and dam application consultant list to find a consultant.

    The consultant visits the site and discusses the proposal with the applicant. A report is prepared on the site visit and other supporting documentation is attached.

    Sections 63 and 64 of the Water Management Act provide the power to grant or refuse an application for a licence to the Minister, however this power has also been delegated to specified persons within the Primary Industries and Water Division of NRE Tas​.

    Upon application, the Primary Industries and Water​ Division will:
    • Check that all relevant information is provided to support the application;
    • Advertise the application with a 14 day period for representations (objections); and
    • Assess and reject or approve the application.
    NRE Tas is generally required to give public notification of water licence applications. A period of 14 days is allowed for any public objection to the application. The authorities (NRE Tas) will then judge the validity of any public objections submitted as part of the application process. Licences must not contravene any Water Management Plans or jeopardise any ecological or commercial values of the specific region of the application.

    When approval for the water licence is given or refused, both the applicant and those making objections are advised. A further 14 days is allowed for successful applicants to request a review of licence conditions, or unsuccessful applicants and those with public objections to appeal the authorities decision to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal.

    See Applying for a Water Licence for more information.

    How much does a water licence cost?

    A Water Licence Application fee is set under the Water Management Regulations 1999. This fee covers the cost of correct application proofing, advertising, site assessment and processing of a standard nature. Applications that require additional processing due to extraordinary on site circumstances, may incur an extra processing fee. This is calculated on a case-by-case basis.

    An annual regional management fee (based on regional fee units and whether or not the water is taken directly or into storage) and an Administration Fee is also applicable as an ongoing cost.

    Water licence fees are payable as a lump sum. 

    How long does my water licence /allocation last and can I transfer it?

    Currently a water licence is usually granted for 40 years with provision made for reassessment of licence conditions within 5 years. At the end of the 40 year period, licences are "rolled over" for another 40 years if all licence conditions have been appropriately complied with.

    Both a water licence or water allocation can be transferred temporarily (leased) or permanently (sold) with approval from the NRE Tas. A Licence/Allocation transfer application form must be completed and submitted with an application fee.

    The intended recipient of an allocation transfer must also hold a water licence or submit a water licence application at the same time. A temporary transfer (not more than 21 days) of a water allocation may be granted at NRE Tas' discretion, without holding a water licence, if dire water shortage affecting livelihood can be demonstrated.

    Temporary water rights are also available. These rights are limited though and are not suitable for long-term irrigation practices.

    The Tasmanian government and some other corporate entities own or manage irrigation schemes, which provide water for a defined 'Irrigation Scheme district', and each property within that district is granted an irrigation right based on the area of irrigable land. Irrigation rights may also be transferred within that irrigation district.

    The WMA provides for the establishment of irrigation districts and the administration of such districts by a responsible water entity (eg. a Government Business Enterprise, council, company, co-operative, trust).

    Further information

    Transferring Water Licences and Dam Permits
    Temporary water allocations
    Selling Water
    Water Districts

    What is the process for conveying water from a storage via a watercourse?

    Previously, the conveying of water via a watercourse was dealt with as a water allocation transfer under the Water Management Act 1999. However, this was a cumbersome way of dealing with such transfers as it can become quite complex when there are a number of instream dams between the release and extraction points.

    There became an obvious need for a more efficient process to be developed and in February 2009 the Water Management Act 1999 was amended to provide for the issuing of an authority to convey water via a watercourse. A Watercourse Authority is an approval that authorises a person to convey, via a watercourse, water that has been taken and stored under the Water Management Act 1999 or the Irrigation Clauses Act 1973.

    In general, a Watercourse Authority will provide permission (subject to conditions) to both a person to release stored water from their dam into a watercourse and to the person located downstream who wishes to take the water from the watercourse either directly or into storage, using the one approval process. The new arrangment will ensure that any potential problems have been resolved prior to the release of the water.

    Applications for a Watercourse Authority will need to be made to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania, accompanied by a Watercourse Conveyance Agreement.

    Further Information

    Watercourse Authority Fact Sheet
    Watercourse Conveyance Agreement


    What will my water licence require me to do?

    There is no 'standard' water licence and conditions placed upon each licence will vary from region to region, depending on competing water uses and water availability.

    Your licence approval will detail all the requirements of the specific conditions of your licence. It is the responsibility of the landowner to understand and to exercise all the requirements of the specific conditions of their licence.