Water access licences (WALs) entitle licence holders to specified shares in the available water within a particular water management area (the share component) and to take water at specified times, rates or circumstances from specified areas or locations (the extraction component).

WALs may be granted to access the available water governed by a water sharing plan under the Water Management Act 2000.

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

Features of water access licences

The Water Management Act recognises that a water access licence is a valuable asset. Water access licences under the Water Management Act 2000 differ from licences under the Water Act 1912 as they:

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

'Continuing' water access licences (licences granted in perpetuity) provide:

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

Categories of water access licences

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

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

Categories of access licence may be prescribed by the regulations. Subcategories of any category of access licence may also be prescribed by the regulations.

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

  • a local water utility access licence (subcategory 'domestic and commercial'), for the purpose of domestic consumption and commercial activities
  • a domestic and stock access licence (subcategory 'domestic'), for the purpose of domestic consumption
  • an unregulated river access licence (subcategory 'town water supply'), for the purpose of supply to communities for domestic consumption and commercial activities
  • a regulated river (high security) access licence (subcategory 'town water supply'), for the purpose of supply to communities for domestic consumption and commercial activities
  • an aquifer access licence (subcategory 'town water supply'), for the purpose of supply to communities for domestic consumption and commercial activities
  • any category of specific purpose access licence (subcategory 'Aboriginal cultural'), for Aboriginal cultural purposes.

Applications can also be made for specific purpose access licences if a management plan provides for these applications.

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

Tenure of water access licences

There are three types of tenure for water access licences:

'Continuing' water access licences Right arrow > are issued in perpetuity, which means they do not need to be renewed and typically include licences granted for a commercial purpose (such as irrigation or industrial use).
Specific purpose water access licences Right arrow > are cancelled when the purpose for which the licence was issued ceases and generally have higher priority access to water than continuing licences.
Supplementary water access licences Right arrow > are cancelled when the relevant water sharing plan ceases to provide for the extraction of water under these licences and generally have lower priority than all other access licences. Supplementary water access licences only arise where a water sharing plan makes provision for them.

Note that, irrespective of the type of tenure, a water access licence can be suspended or cancelled if there is a breach of the licence conditions or other non compliance.

The WAL Register and WAL certificates

The Water Access Licence Register has a separate record for each water access licence issued (called a water access licence folio). The online register is administered by Land and Property Information (LPI).

LPI issues a duplicate of the water access licences folio (called the water access licence certificate) to the licence holder, or any other party entitled to hold the water access licence certificate (e.g. a mortgagee). For more detailed information go to the Registrar General's Directions website or information on the Water Access Licence Register on the LPI website.

For more information on water access licences and certificates go to the Guide to water access licences and certificates (PDF 191 KB).

Replacement of former Water Act licences with water access licences when a water sharing plan commences

When a water sharing plan commences, most existing Water Act 1912 licences are replaced by water access licences and approvals under the Water Management Act 2000.

For more information on the steps to the issuing of a water access licence certificate by Land and Property Information after the commencement of a water sharing plan, go to Water licensing > About licences > Licence conversion.