The NSW Aquifer Interference Policy defines the regime for protecting and managing the impacts of aquifer interference activities on NSW's water resources and strikes a balance between the water needs of towns, farmers, industry and the environment.
A key plank of the NSW Government's Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, the Aquifer Interference Policy details how potential impacts on water resources will be assessed, and how the NSW Office of Water's advice on this assessment is provided to the relevant body, including the Gateway Panel and/or the Planning Assessment Commission.
- applies across the state, clarifying water licence and impact assessment requirements for aquifer interference activities
- ensures equitable water sharing among different types of water users
- ensures that water taken by aquifer interference activities is properly licensed and accounted for in the water budget and water sharing arrangements
- enhances existing regulation, resulting in a comprehensive framework to protect the rights of all water users and the environment.
There are three key parts to the Policy:
- All water taken must be properly accounted for.
- The activity must address minimal impact considerations for impacts on water table, water pressure and water quality.
- Planning for measures in the event that the actual impacts are greater than predicted, including making sure that there is sufficient monitoring in place.
Find out more in the Aquifer Interference Policy fact sheets.
Implementing the Aquifer Interference Policy
Water licences are required to account for the water taken from groundwater and surface water sources through aquifer interference activities. This is to ensure that the amount of water taken from each water source does not exceed the extraction limit set in a water sharing plan. These extraction limits are set to ensure that water is available in each water source for the environment and other water users, including domestic and stock users, irrigators, town water suppliers and various industries – including mining and coal seam gas.
A water licence is required whether water is taken for consumptive use e.g. irrigation, or whether it is taken incidentally by the aquifer interference activity. For example, dewatering of groundwater to allow mining to occur or during building construction requires a water licence even where that water is not being used consumptively as part of the activity's operation.
Assessment of water impacts
The Aquifer Interference Policy details the way the NSW Office of Water will assess aquifer interference projects to determine their potential impacts on water resources. It also explains the information and modelling that proponents will need to provide to enable the impacts to be assessed.
The assessment criteria are called 'minimal impact considerations' and include impacts on water table levels, water pressure levels and water quality in different types of groundwater systems. Impacts on connected alluvial aquifers and surface water systems are also considered, as well as the impacts on other water-dependent assets. These include impacts on water supply bores, groundwater-dependent ecosystems and culturally significant sites that are groundwater-dependent.
Thresholds are set in the Policy so that the impacts of both an individual activity and the cumulative impacts of a number of activities within each water source can be considered.
Mining and petroleum exploration – Groundwater Monitoring and Modelling Plans
Most mining or petroleum exploration activities taking place under the Mining Act 1992 and the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 require proponents to prepare Groundwater Monitoring and Modelling Plans in consultation with the NSW Office of Water. The plans are required to ensure proponents embarking upon exploration understand the requirements of the Aquifer Interference Policy and understand what groundwater monitoring and modelling information the Office of Water will require when assessing the project during the approvals process. The information sheet below will assist proponents with the development of their plans.
Aquifer Interference assessment framework
This framework is a useful tool to aid the development of a proposal or an Environmental Impact Statement. Download the step by step guide:
When an assessment has been done, the Office of Water or the Minister for Primary Industries will provide advice to the Gateway Panel, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure or the Division of Resources and Energy, depending on the phase or location of the project.
The gateway process will involve a panel which is intended to provide a tailored mechanism to assess the potential impacts of these proposals on strategic agricultural land and resources. It will provide a rigorous and independent assessment of the potential impacts of a project on agricultural land and water resources before a development application can be lodged.
Benefits to NSW
Both the community and project proponents now have a better understanding of the detailed considerations in the assessment of the water-related impacts of each project. The assessment of potential impacts on water resources is occurring with greater clarity and transparency than in the past.
View or download the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy:
NSW Aquifer Interference Policy factsheet series
Information on groundwater protection and the Aquifer Interference Policy is also available in this series of print friendly factsheets:
Information on land use planning in agriculture is available at Land Use Planning.
Video on Water and Coal Seam Gas.