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How we ensure compliance

How we respond to breaches of the law

We take our role in regulating water laws seriously and have a range of options for responding to breaches. We use a suite of education and enforcement actions to respond to alleged breaches. These can be used separately or in combination with each other. We take a balanced approach to addressing improper conduct. We seek to promote changes in attitudes and behaviours, rather than simply applying a punishment.

Serious breaches of water laws can lead to penalties of up to $1.1 million for an individual. A corporation can face penalties of up to $5.005 million. Daily penalties also apply for each day an offence continues. Individuals can face up to two years in prison for some offences.

Deciding on what actions we should take

We use a risk-based assessment to determine how to respond appropriately. When making a decision, we consider the severity of the breach. We also consider the degree to which the offender is responsible, their attitude to compliance, and the public interest. Some enforcement actions require us to meet a higher standard of evidence of a breach, which may also influence what enforcement action we take. We follow a regulatory policy and, when applicable, prosecution guidelines. We use these to decide how to respond to breaches of water laws. This ensures consistency and fairness in our actions.

For more information on how we respond to water law breaches, visit our FAQs section.

Stop-work orders and directions

If an offending behaviour continues and there is a threat of significant harm to a water source or the environment, we may issue a stop-work order. We may also issue directions to remove unlawful pumps and dams, install water meters or restore damaged waterways. These orders and directions may be issued before we complete an investigation. Details of stop work orders and directions issued by NRAR are made available to the public on the public register.

Advice and warnings

When a breach of water law is relatively minor and the alleged offender has shown a good attitude to compliance, we may provide advice or a warning. This may be verbal or provided in a letter. Our goal is to educate landholders in these circumstances.

Penalty notices and cautions

In situations where the breach is more serious, we may issue a penalty notice (PN). There are some circumstances where we may issue an official caution instead of a PN. This includes when the offence was not particularly serious and the person was cooperative.

Details of penalty notices issued are available on the public register.

Major enforcement actions

Where we have evidence of a serious water law breach, we will consider a major enforcement action.

These actions include:

  • Prosecution in the local court or the Land and Environment Court.  For some offences, individuals may face penalties of up to $1.1 million. Corporations may face penalties of up to $5.005 million.
  • Enforceable undertakings (EU), where a person agrees to undertake set actions within a specified timeframe. We can take court action against a person who does not meet their EU agreements.
  • For unlawful water take offences, we can impose a penalty of up to five times the value of the water taken. If the offender holds a water access licence, we could reduce their water allocation by up to five times the volume of water taken.
  • A court injunction to restrain any ongoing breach of water law.
  • Suspending or cancelling any water access licence or approval held by an offender.
  • Requiring a person to audit their operations. They must check their compliance with water laws.

Read more about prosecutions, enforceable undertakings and penalty notices on our dedicated pages below, which also include case studies. Further details are available on the NRAR public register.


Find out what triggers a prosecution and see our ongoing and concluded cases.


Enforceable undertakings

Find out about this alternative to prosecution and read some case studies.

Enforceable undertaking

Penalty notices

Find out about the types of offences that may result in a PN.

The Hawksbury River on an overcast morning, NSW.