Unauthorised flood works may stop water flowing where it should on the floodplain. This can pose a danger to others, damage to adjoining properties, or adversely impact the environment.
We regulate water users with unauthorised flood works that divert water from important cultural or environmental assets. They are an enduring regulatory priority for NRAR.
What is a flood work?
A flood work is typically a barrage, causeway, cutting, embankment, levee, building pad or below ground channel that is positioned on or near a river, estuary, or lake, or on a declared floodplain (under Clause 252, Water Management (General) Regulations).
Flood works are likely to influence the flow of water to or from a water source, or the distribution or flow of floodwater after heavy rain.
Flood work approvals
Flood works must be authorised (unless exempt) before construction, modification and use to ensure their impact on property, the community, water sources and their dependent ecosystems, and other water users are properly considered and addressed.
- Landholders can apply for a flood work approval via the WaterNSW website.
- Large water users, such as an irrigation corporation or government entity, can apply for a flood work approval via the Department of Planning and Environment website.
- Check if your flood work is exempt on the WaterNSW website.
- Emergency works exemptions may also apply.
How we regulate unauthorised flood works
Under the Water Management Act 2000, any flood work constructed or modified either without an approval or outside of the conditions of an approval is non-compliant (unless an exemption applies).
- work closely with the Improving Floodplain Connections Program to bring unapproved flood works in the northern Basin into compliance with the requirements of floodplain management plans
- respond to reports of non-compliance from the community or intelligence led campaigns, and if safe to do so, act when we find unauthorised flood works that divert water from important cultural or environmental assets, including significant impacts on water users' access to water
- act when we find unauthorised flood works without approval, as well as flood works that are constructed or modified in a way that is in breach of the terms and/or conditions of the approval.
As part of this long-term project, we will give priority to unlicensed flood works on floodplains that affect assets of high ecological, economic or cultural importance. We will utilise data from existing Floodplain Management Plans and surveys conducted during the Healthy Floodplains Program to initially focus on the Northern Basin, then turn our attention to the Central and Southern Basins.
How we will respond to non-compliance
Our response to non-compliance depends on the potential harm caused to the environment, other landholders or water users, the offender’s culpability, compliance history attitude to the non-compliance and public interest considerations.
Compliance responses can include guidance and education material, advisory letters, warnings, corrective actions, statutory directions, stop work orders, penalty notices, licence suspension/cancellation or prosecution.
We are a firm but fair regulator and will consider each case on its merits.
Frequently asked questions about flood works
Are flood works used for floodplain harvesting?
Unauthorised flood works may stop water flowing where it needs to go on the floodplain. Floodplain harvesting (i.e. taking water from the floodplain) does not need to take place for an unauthorised flood work to be in potential breach of water laws.
Read more about our compliance approach to floodplain harvesting.
Why do I need to get authorisation before I construct, modify or use a flood work to divert water from a floodplain?
When an unauthorised structure diverts water from where it should flow on the floodplain it can have unexpected impacts on adjoining properties and the environment.
For example, if a landholder is aware of an upcoming flood event and extends the height of their levee bank without authorisation or an exemption from WaterNSW, the flow of the water becomes unpredictable and likely to bring consequences, such as flooding, for others.
WaterNSW assesses most flood-work applications in rural and regional NSW. The process includes a review of potential impacts on neighbouring properties and the surrounding area.
Any changes or modifications to flood works, such as an increase in levee height, must be authorised by WaterNSW, unless an exemption applies.
Exemptions allow for embankments to be constructed around farm structures such as a dwelling, shed/s or storage silos (subject to conditions), without requiring an approval.
Please refer to the WaterNSW website for further information.
What is NRAR’s compliance approach to unauthorised flood works during a flood event?
During a flood NRAR will:
- investigate complaints via assessment of flood impacted areas
- provide information on whether flood works (levees) are approved to assist local councils and NSW State Emergency Service (SES), who are best placed to respond to the impact of any flood works in the area and determine the appropriate action.
Will NRAR remove unauthorised flood works during a flood?
NRAR will work with emergency authorities in relation to any action required regarding unauthorised flood works.
Emergency authorities have the power to take action to remove or remediate levees that may be dangerous to life or property or that may interfere with the response of emergency services.
NRAR will continue to investigate complaints relating to unauthorised flood works and determine if enforcement action is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. NRAR may undertake site inspections in support of these investigations when flooding recedes, and it is safe for staff to do so.
NRAR will consider issues such as the impact of the unapproved works on other properties, the responsibility of the landholder and whether the various enforcement options would be in the public interest.
What do I do if I suspect an unauthorised flood work in my community?
You can search flood work approvals applicable to a particular property through the NSW Water Register.
You can report alleged unlawful or unapproved levees via NRAR’s hotline 1800 633 362 or by completing an online suspicious activity report.
For emergency help in floods and storms, call the NSW State Emergency Service: 132 500
In life threatening situations call triple zero: 000