In areas where water sharing plans have not commenced, the issue of licences to take water from groundwater sources and, generally, to install a bore, is governed by the Water Act 1912 and managed by the NSW Office of Water.

However, from 28 February 2011, all landholders across the State wanting to construct a water bore to take water for domestic consumption or stock watering under a domestic and stock right are required to obtain a water supply work approval under the Water Management Act 2000. Former Water Act 1912 licences issued to owners and occupiers of landholdings overlying an aquifer to use water for domestic and stock purposes have been replaced by ‘deemed water supply work approvals’ under the Water Management Act 2000. Go to Q&As for water users (PDF 34 KB) for more information.

Water access licences and approvals to take and use water from water sources governed by water sharing plans are granted according to the Water Management Act 2000. To find out where water sharing plans have commenced go to Commenced water sharing plans.

Note that the term 'bore' is used here to mean any bore or well, or any excavation or other work, connected or proposed to be connected with sub-surface water sources to access it either by natural flows or by a pump or other artificial means (refer to s. 105 Water Act 1912).

Groundwater supplies are limited and in some of the heavily used groundwater aquifers there may be embargoes in place for some water uses to ensure that the aquifer can be sustainably used by those that rely on it.

Do I need a licence?

Unless the bore is to take water for domestic and stock use under a domestic and stock right, you require a groundwater licence issued under Part 5 of the Water Act 1912 if you want to construct a ‘bore’ (as described above) in an area where a water sharing plan has not commenced.

Commercial groundwater licences generally require a meter to be installed and have an annual extraction limit. They are normally renewable every five years.

While landholders do not need a licence to use water for domestic and stock water purposes (as this use is part of their domestic and stock right), they still require a water licence to construct a bore to take groundwater for domestic or stock use if the water source is not governed by a water sharing plan.

If you have a stock or domestic groundwater licence you must only use this water for household purposes (non-commercial uses in and around the house and garden) and for watering of stock. This water cannot therefore be used for irrigating crops or garden produce that will be sold or bartered, for washing down machinery sheds or for intensive livestock operations. For more information go to Basic water rights.

In times of limited supply there may be restrictions on taking water for domestic and stock use.

What is the quality of groundwater like?

The quality of groundwater varies greatly across the state. In some places the water is good quality, in other places it can be saline or contaminated and cannot be used for watering gardens or irrigation. Laboratories registered with the National Association of Testing Authorities can provide groundwater tests.

Is there a charge for licences issued under the Water Act 1912?

Industrial and irrigation bore licences are subject to both licence application fees and annual water charges.

While application fees apply for stock and domestic artesian bore licences, there is currently no licence fee for non-artesian stock and domestic bores. There are no annual water charges for any stock and domestic bores.

For more information go to Fees under the Water Act 1912 or contact a water licensing officer.

What happens after I receive a licence?

If you are engaging a bore driller you are responsible for ensuring that the works are drilled by a person who holds a current driller's licence issued by the NSW Office of Water for the class of work and drilling method to be used. You should check the driller's licence and its classification before you engage them. Drillers are required to carry their licence with them. More information on drillers' licence classes and drilling methods is available under Driller's licences.

You must provide the driller with a copy of the groundwater licence and conditions sheets so that the driller is aware of any special construction requirements. The NSW Office of Water strongly advises that you obtain a written agreement (contract) from the drilling contractor for the work to be undertaken.

The Office of Water recommends that the bore be constructed to the minimum requirements set out in guidelines developed by the National Groundwater Committee: Minimum Construction Requirements for Water Bores in Australia.

On completion of the bore, it is also recommended that a single rate pumping test be conducted for a minimum period of six hours for domestic and stock use and longer for commercial uses as described in the Australian Standard AS 2368—1990 Test Pumping of Water Wells. A pump test will allow determination of the safe yield, optimum pump rate and pump depth for the bore.

As part of their licence requirements, after the bore has been constructed drillers must complete a copy of the NSW Office of Water Form A – particulars of completed works including details of the location and construction of the bore, as well as information on the quality of the bore water.

You must send the completed Form A, together with any further information required in the licence conditions to the NSW Office of Water within two months of completion of the bore.

Do I need a pumping test to be carried out on my bore?

Test pumping of your new bore allows the safe yield of the bore to be determined. That is, the optimum pumping rate that can be achieved without significant drawdown impacts. The information obtained from test pumping also allows pump suppliers to be able to recommend a suitably sized pump for your bore, as well as advising on its appropriate depth of placement.

Following completion of a bore for domestic and stock use, test pumping at a constant rate is recommended for a minimum duration of six hours as described in the Minimum Construction Requirements for Water Bores in Australia and the Australian Standard AS 2368–1990 Test Pumping of Water Wells.

In the case of bores for irrigation, industrial, recreation or other commercial purposes located in the coastal management area of the state, it is recommended that a hydrogeological consultant is engaged to manage a longer term pumping test in accordance with the Coastal Groundwater – Test Pumping Groundwater Assessment Guidelines for Bore Licence Applications (PDF 611 KB). Other specific requirements apply for licences in inland areas and advice should be sought from your local NSW Office of Water office if you are not in the coastal management area.

Why do I require a licence?

A licence is required under Part 5 of the Water Act 1912.

The records gained by licensing groundwater works and monitoring the levels of extraction helps to sustainably manage our groundwater sources, protecting their quality and the ecosystems that depend on them.

Records provided by the Form A – particulars of completed works are collated in a database of over 90,000 groundwater bores. This database provides information on the location, quantities and quality of water in the aquifer and the local geology. You can look up records on this database by going to information on Constructing a bore.

The Office of Water may also use contact details for groundwater licence holders to inform them of requirements caused by reduced water quality or, in some circumstances, to inform them of changes to their licence conditions.

My property already has a bore, how do I find out if it's licensed?

NSW Office of Water licensing officers can advise you whether a bore on your property is licensed. If your bore is unlicensed they will advise you whether you may be able to apply for a licence and whether any licensing restrictions or embargoes may apply.

My bore collapsed or failed, can I construct a replacement bore on my current licence?

You must have your licence amended or apply to the NSW Office of Water for a replacement bore licence.

What are the penalties for illegal activities?

It is illegal to construct a bore without first obtaining a groundwater licence. It is also illegal for a driller to construct a bore without a driller's licence or to drill a bore that is in a class outside their licence. Under the Water Act 1912 there are penalties of up to $22,000 for constructing a bore illegally.

More information is available in the NSW Office of Water's Water Compliance Policy (PDF 294 KB).