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Water licensing and approvals

NRAR issues water access licences and associated approvals to larger water users such as irrigation corporations and government entities, while WaterNSW licenses rural landholders and businesses.

What is a water licence?

The state government controls the use and flow of all water in rivers, lakes and aquifers in NSW.

In water sharing plan areas, water access licences permit the licence holder to take water from a specified water source, under the terms of the licence.

NRAR and WaterNSW share responsibility for granting and managing water licences and approvals.

WaterNSW is responsible for issuing water access licences (WALs) and associated approvals required by private entities such as rural landholders, rural industries and developments. These make up approximately 96 per cent of all WALs in NSW.

It is also responsible for managing trade of water access licences, licence entitlements and water allocations for NRAR’s customers.

NRAR issues licences to a small cohort of larger water users such as state significant developments, mining operations, irrigation corporations and government entities. While these water users only account for around 4 per cent of all WALs, they use over 60 per cent of all allocated water in NSW.

NRAR’s primary responsibility in relation to water licensing is checking licence holders’ compliance with the conditions of their licences and with NSW water management laws to enable secure and sustainable sharing of water between users and the environment.

If you need to apply for a licence, you can learn more on whether to apply through NRAR or WaterNSW.

How to apply for a Water Access Licence?

Information on all water licences, including how to apply, and the fees for each.

Please use NRAR Assist if you need further information on water access licences.

What are works approvals and water use approvals?

Water supply work approvals allow you to construct and use a work which takes water from a river, lake or aquifer. Examples of water supply works that require approval include:

  • water pumps
  • water bores
  • dams
  • weirs
  • irrigation channels
  • banks and levees.

Water use approvals allow you to use water on your land. Uses of water that require approval include:

  • irrigation
  • town water supply
  • power generation
  • mining.

Approval is needed for these works to ensure they don’t harm water sources or the animals and plants dependent on them. Approvals also ensure the works don’t affect access to water by other water users.

Licences and approvals for private rural landholders and rural industries are issued by WaterNSW. NRAR provides licences and approvals for many larger commercial and all government entities. If you apply for a water licence through WaterNSW, you will also apply for water supply work and water use approvals through WaterNSW.

How to apply for a water supply work and water use approval

Application forms and guides to apply for a new approval or existing approval

Please use NRAR Assist if you need further information on water supply works and/or use approval.

How to apply for exemptions

For some entities, water licences, water supply works and water uses are exempt from needing approvals. Find out which under Exemptions in the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 (PDF, 327.89 KB).

Drought works exemptions

Relevant public authorities can apply to NRAR for an exemption under clause 39A of the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.

Drought works exemptions

Water licensing and works approvals exemptions

Learn more on exemptions, and when you won’t need to apply for water licence or work approvals


Emergency works exemption

An emergency works exemption is available under the Water Management General Regulation 2018 (Regulation) from 26 February 2021.

Emergency works exemptions

Groundwater WAL exemptions for 3ML and Botany Sands

Two new WAL exemptions are now available under the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 (Regulation).