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How we ensure compliance

How we use technology

We use a growing suite of technology to monitor and assess compliance with water laws across NSW.

We monitor and regulate water across a vast area covering some 800,000 square kilometres containing tens of thousands of water licences and constructed water works. We therefore rely on advanced technology to increase the effectiveness, accuracy and efficiency of our work.

Our tech helps us to quickly identify possible non-compliance and collect evidence in the field. This means that there has never been a greater chance of getting caught.

Hear from our tech specialists about our use of drones, satellites and autonomous boats.

Satellite imagery

We use publicly available satellite imagery and NSW Government satellite subscriptions to monitor water take and usage across NSW. They also track changes on floodplains and in rivers.  The publicly available satellite imagery (Sentinel and Landsat) covers the globe every 5 to 16 days. These satellite data sources are great for analysing changes in water use. They cover data all the way back to the 1980s.

When an anomaly is found using Sentinel or Landsat, our teams will then check Planet satellite images. Planet satellite covers the whole of NSW every day and the images captured are at a higher resolution than Sentinel or Landsat. This allows us to see and measure visible changes over time in considerable detail. For even more in-depth images, our teams can use SkySat. SkySat lets us direct a satellite to capture very high-resolution imagery. It can do this anywhere in NSW within 48-72 hours.

In April 2022, Planet satellite was used to measure changes in the volume of water pumped into very large storage dams. This led to the prosecution of a Brewarrina farmer who was found to have breached the conditions of their water licence by pumping water while their meter was not working.

Learn more about how NRAR uses satellite imagery to monitor water take in NSW.

Ariel Photography

Nearmap regularly captures high-resolution aerial photographs over the populated coastal and inland regions of NSW. Nearmap images have a pixel size of approximately 7cm. This allows us to see very fine details that are otherwise blurry on satellite imagery. Nearmap captures these images several times per year, and records extend back to 2012.

We also use the NSW Historical Aerial Photo Collection. Aerial photography covered much of NSW every decade back to as early as the 1930s. These historical aerial photographs are detailed and provide a valuable archive of information. The information can be used to establish the size of dams or irrigation developments over time.

Digital elevation models (DEMs)

Digital elevation models are used for mapping and identifying potentially unlawful works. For example unapproved levees, channels or dams. DEMs can estimate the width, depth, and length of illegal structures. They can also estimate the volume.

DEMs provide a 3D representation of the ground surface. They are made using airborne laser survey technology (also known as LiDAR – Light Detection and Ranging) and aerial photography through a technique known as photogrammetry.


Remotely operated drones give us a bird’s eye view during site inspections. Drones provide high   resolution imagery with a pixel size of only millimeters. Drones can be flown along a river to assess illegal works on waterfront land. We also use them to locate pumps, bores, and pipes in hard-to-access locations.

We can even use drones equipped with survey-grade GPS to accurately measure the size and shape of farm dams.

Learn more about how we use drones and satellite imagery to monitor water use and compliance with our water laws across NSW.

Other technology

Acoustic profiler boat 

The acoustic profiler boat is a remotely piloted boat that uses sound waves to measure the size and shape of a dam.

This state-of-the-art survey equipment is the most accurate way to measure dam volume.  It comes with enough batteries to survey most storage sizes. It can also measure water flow rates in open channels. For example, those found on farms with large irrigation operations.

Fish finder

Our officers use ‘fish finders’ or castable depth sounders to quickly and easily measure dam depths. They use the data to estimate dam volume. NRAR also use LiDAR data and terrain models to gauge whether dams are an approved size.

Flow meters

We use precise ultrasonic ‘strap on’ flow meters. They measure water flow in closed pipes alleviating the need to install a meter or cut holes in the pipe.

With this tech, we can check if irrigator-owned meters are working properly. We can also check if they accurately show the water taken from the source.