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What we do

Investigation and enforcement

NRAR officer taking photo of water pump during an inspection

NRAR’s Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) function has three arms – the investigators in Water Regulation East, those in Water Regulation West, and the team which deals with more serious matters that may lead to prosecution cases – the Water Enforcement Taskforce.

Our investigators come from a range of disciplines including science, environmental management, regulation, engineering and law.

Investigators in our East and West teams look into cases referred to them from several sources:

  • through our monitoring and audit functions including remote surveillance and other intelligence sources
  • other agencies which have identified a potential breach such as councils
  • public complaints through NRAR’s website.

Investigators are authorised under the Water Management Act 2000 to gather evidence. NRAR’s authorised officers can enter a person’s private property (other than a residence) without a search warrant and undertake activities on a property such as inspect and test equipment, take samples and examine records. They may also take photos or video and seize items if necessary, such as invoices or equipment.

For more on this see the  NRAR Compliance powers fact sheet.

When investigators have investigated a case, a course of action will be determined. They will either close the case if there is not enough evidence of non-compliance, or determine the appropriate regulatory response. (See How we respond to non-compliance below).

Water Enforcement Taskforce (WET)

The WET team works on high-risk cases that may lead to more serious enforcement action. All decisions to commence a prosecution must be endorsed by the NRAR Board after independent legal advice is obtained.

The WET team works with NRAR-dedicated lawyers from the Department of Planning and Environment and also in more serious cases the Crown Solicitor’s Office and external barristers. Experts in various fields may be called upon at this stage to help assess the harm involved in a case.

Cases may be heard in a local court or for the most serious, the Land and Environment Court.

Since NRAR’s establishment in 2018, the WET team has launched 28 prosecutions as at June 2021.

The importance of I&E’s work

Prosecutions are NRAR’s highest sanction, and are a key part of maintaining public confidence in the enforcement of water laws in NSW. Publicity about prosecutions increases public awareness of our work and puts the regulated community on notice that breaching water laws can result in serious consequences. Prosecutions are also an important part of building a culture of compliant water use across the state.

Active prosecutions

Visit our Prosecutions page to access our interactive map to see where NRAR has active prosecutions taking place.

Concluded prosecutions

NRAR has also concluded a number of prosecutions. Find out what sort of offences we have taken to court, what the judicial outcome was, and what harm was done.

A dry dam in NSW

How I&E enforces the law

As stated in our Regulatory Policy, NRAR employs a graduated and proportionate approach in our response to breaches of water laws. Our response is based on the severity of the breach (its effect on the environment and potential harm to people or property) and the regulated entity’s culpability, cooperation and approach to the breach. The level of public interest in the case is also taken into account.

Compliance tools

NRAR uses a suite of tools to respond to an alleged breach of water laws. These tools may include one, or a combination of, the following:

  • incident management—stopping any significant, ongoing effect and remediating it where appropriate
  • investigation and enforcement
  • amending conditions in licences issued by NRAR
  • using the alleged breach as part of the intelligence to develop future monitoring and audit programs
  • education and information campaigns.

NRAR selects the appropriate tools with which to respond to alleged breaches. Which tools we use influence whether or not we need to inspect a site and the time we will need to respond.

Regardless of the assessed priority, all reports of alleged breaches are used to inform NRAR’s intelligence base for preparing compliance responses.

NRAR routine monitoring on a property in regional NSW

How we respond to non-compliance

NRAR responds in a range of ways to non-compliance when a breach of water law is confirmed, guided by our Regulatory Policy, and where appropriate, our Prosecution Guidelines.

We try to both address improper conduct and promote changes in attitudes and behaviours, rather than simply apply a punishment.

Our regulatory responses include, in increasing severity:

  • guidance, education, information
  • advisory letters
  • warnings (written or verbal)
  • cautions
  • corrective action requests
  • statutory directions such as stop-work orders, directions to remove water management works and remediation orders
  • enforceable undertakings
  • penalty notices
  • licence action (including suspension, variation or cancellation)
  • civil action, such as:
    • debiting a licence holder’s account by up to five times the amount of water taken
    • imposing a penalty of up to five times the value of the water taken
    • injunctions or other remedies to remedy the breach
  • prosecution.

NRAR employs strong regulatory responses when required. In particular, if we need to act urgently to prevent any ongoing significant harm to a water source, the environment or public safety, we may issue stop-work orders or remediation directions before completing any investigation.

Serious non-compliance can lead to penalties of up to $1.1 million for an individual and $5.005 million for a corporation. Daily penalties also apply for each day that the offence continues, and individuals can face up to two years’ imprisonment for some offences.

When NRAR issues a direction or penalty notice, agrees to an enforceable undertaking, or prosecutes a person, we publish details on the NRAR public register on our website.