A NSW Government website

Water licensing and approvals

Which agency do I lodge my application with?

When do I need a water licence or work approval?

Water licensing and work approvals exemptions

To take and use water from a river, dam or aquifer in NSW you need a water access licence and an approval.

The water access licence (WAL) gives you the right to take a certain volume of water from a particular water source. You will then need a water supply work approval to allow you to set up or construct your pump or bore that you will use to extract the water.

Finally, depending on what you intend to use the water for, you may also need a water use approval which allows you to use the water on your land for certain purposes.

To summarise what each authorisation governs:

  • water access licence – how much water you can take, and where you can take it from
  • water supply work approval – how you take the water (the pump, bore or dam you use to extract or capture the water)
  • water use approval – where and for what purpose you are going to use the water.


There are situations where you may be exempt from some or all of the above requirements. Further information on exemptions is available in the legislation here.

How to apply for water licences and work approvals

Water access licence application and fees

Responsibilities for granting and managing water licences and approvals are split between NRAR and WaterNSW.

NRAR is responsible for water access licences and associated approvals required by or for:

  • government agencies, including NSW and Commonwealth government agencies and councils
  • state-owned corporations
  • major water utilities, water supply authorities and licensed network operators under the Water Industry Competition Act 2006 (NSW)
  • entities who are carrying out activities under the Mining Act 1992 (NSW), the Offshore Minerals Act 1999 (NSW), the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 (NSW) or the Petroleum (Offshore) Act 1982
  • irrigation corporations
  • public schools and public hospitals
  • entities who hold or are eligible for an Aboriginal commercial, Aboriginal community development, Aboriginal cultural or Aboriginal environmental subcategory of access licence
  • entities undertaking major developments (state significant developments and state significant infrastructure).

WaterNSW is responsible for water access licences and associated approvals required by:

  • rural landholders
  • rural industries
  • developments which are not state significant development or state significant infrastructure.

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

Visit application forms and guides for more information and to apply.

How does NRAR assess my application?

If you represent an entity covered by NRAR and have applied for either a water licence or work approval, an NRAR Licensing & Approvals assessing officer will then decide whether the work or activity detailed in the application meets all the conditions required for approval.

The officer will also consider all relevant environmental impact issues when making the decision on whether to grant approval.

To make a decision on your application, the assessing officer will refer to information in NRAR’s databases, detail supplied by you, and assessments made by specialists within NRAR.

Submissions made by potentially impacted parties (in response to public notices of the proposed works) are also considered in the approval process, and our officers often visit the site of the proposed works.


Water licences, work approvals, and water use approvals

NRAR manages and grants approvals for the following four types of works and water use activities.

Water supply work approvals

Water supply work approvals allow you to construct and use a work that 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.

More information on water supply works is here. You can apply for a water supply work approval here.

Flood work approvals

Flood work approvals allow you to construct and use a work located near a river, estuary or lake, or within a floodplain. Approvals are needed for works likely to affect the flow of water to or from a river, estuary or lake, or distribution or flow of floodwater in times of flood.

Examples of flood works that require approval:

  • cuttings
  • embankments
  • levees to prevent inundation of flood waters
  • building pads
  • below-ground channels.

Find out more about flood work approvals and how to apply here.

Water use approvals

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.

Find out more about water use approvals and how to apply here.

Controlled activity approvals

Works on waterfront land are called controlled activities. Controlled activity approvals (CAAs) allow you to carry out certain activities in, on, or beside rivers, lakes and estuaries.

Examples of controlled activities that need approval:

  • erecting a building
  • removing or depositing material
  • removing vegetation
  • constructing a bridge, causeway or other kind of watercourse crossing
  • laying pipe and cables
  • constructing stormwater outlets.

See more on our What is a controlled activity? page.