The department plays a crucial role in the assessment, management and review of major developments in NSW. Under the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EPBC Act), the department provides advice to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and major project proponents to ensure that development is sustainable and consistent with the broader management principles of the state's water resources and their dependent ecosystems for the benefit of both present and future generations. The Department of Planning and Environment's Water Assessment team coordinates the provision of this advice.
In reviewing and preparing comment on major development proposals, we take into account the requirements of the Water Management Act 2000, Water Act 1912 and related regulations/instruments (e.g. water sharing plans) as well as relevant policies and guidelines such as the Australian Groundwater Modelling Guidelines.
At the time of exploration, and before a project becomes a major development, the NSW Resource Regulator requires the preparation of a Groundwater Monitoring and Modelling Plan (GMMP) as a standard condition of licence for exploration (drilling) under the Mining Act 1992 and Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991. The GMMP is a program to document groundwater settings through data acquisition and monitoring to support the development of a groundwater impact model to be used in the environmental impact statement.
View a summary table of what we do at each stage of the major project planning process and the information required from the proponent at each of these stages.
State significant development
Our department is responsible for providing advice, managing policies and water access licences relevant to state significant developments and state significant infrastructure (SSD and SSI) under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
See Major Projects for more information on our role in assessing major projects.
Non-state significant development
Where an activity is defined as non-state significant development under the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979, a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) allows the assessing agency to determine whether or not the activity requires a higher level of assessment in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). If an EIS is not required, the assessing agency will recommend either the approval or rejection of the REF submitted by the proponent.
The department recommends that proponents refer to the Aquifer Interference Policy Assessment Framework (PDF, 115.37 KB) when preparing an EIS for a major project.
The EPBC Act 'Water Trigger'
Australia's national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, was amended in June 2013 to provide that water resources are a matter of national environmental significance in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mining development. This amendment is known as the water trigger.
The water trigger allows the impacts of proposed coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources to be comprehensively assessed at a national level.
Under the water trigger, any coal seam gas or large coal mining developments that are expected to have a significant impact on water resources must be referred to the Commonwealth Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) for advice. As part of their assessment, the IESC may seek advice from us. Based on the IESC's advice, the Minister can set appropriate conditions as part of the project approval to ensure that any significant impacts on a water resource are acceptable.
The rules surrounding the referral of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments to the IESC by the NSW Government are prescribed under an agreement between the NSW and Commonwealth governments.
Find out more information on managing impacts from coal mining and coal seam gas.
Rules for water access for mines in the Special Areas of the Sydney Drinking Water catchments
Water Access Licence Dealing Principles (Special Areas) Amendment Order 2023
The object of this Order is to amend the Access Licence Dealing Principles Order 2004 to enable the assignment of water allocations from a major utility (urban water) access licence held by Water NSW in the Upper Nepean and Upstream Warragamba Water Source and the Southern Sydney Rivers Water Source to unregulated river access licences held in relation to certain coal mines in the Greater Sydney Water Catchment Woronora and Metropolitan Special Areas which incidentally take water. This Order is made under section 71Z of the Water Management Act 2000. Section 43(2) of the Interpretation Act 1987 provides that the power to make an order under an Act includes the power to amend the order.
What the new Regulation of incidental surface water take will achieve
These trading rules have been introduced to cover the incidental (unintentional and uncontrollable) take of surface water by mines located in the Special Areas of the Sydney Drinking Water catchments. Mining has occurred in the Sydney catchment for over 200 years, and mines in the Special Areas were operating before the Water Management Act 2000 and the relevant water sharing plan were in force, including the requirement to license all incidental surface water take. This incidental water take cannot be prevented. This regulation of incidental water take addresses part of the Government’s response to recommendations made by the Independent Expert Panel for Mining in the Catchment.
About the new trading rule
A new water allocation trading rule that applies to mines located within the Sydney Special Areas provides a way for mines to obtain water allocation to account for their incidental surface water take under the Water Management Act 2000 (the Act) and pay for this water. By providing a way for the mines to account and pay for their water take, the new trading rule will help to improve the way the NSW Government monitors mining activities and manages water resources in the Special Areas. It also provides greater equity amongst water users as the mines have to account and pay for the water they take in line with what other mining companies and water users are required to do.
The new trading rule allows WaterNSW to trade water allocation from water access licences it holds in the Upper Nepean and Upstream Warragamba Water Source and the Southern Sydney Rivers Water Source to unregulated river access licences held in relation to coal mines in the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment Woronora and Metropolitan Special Areas. Water allocations can only be traded from the WaterNSW licence to licences in the same water source and the receiving licence must be held for the purpose of accounting for incidental surface water take only (e.g. surface water being taken due to mining impacts).
Limitations on the trades
WaterNSW will not be required to trade with mines if there is not enough allocation available.
The mines will determine how much water is required to account for their incidental water take and will request the required amount of water to be traded from WaterNSW. It is the mines’ responsibility to ensure they hold sufficient water entitlement/allocation to account for the water they take. All mines in NSW are required to determine their water needs (including their incidental water take) and to obtain sufficient water entitlement or allocation to account for this take.
Trades can only be made to specific licences held by eligible mining lease holders for the purpose of accounting for incidental surface water take resulting from mining activities. These licences must have conditions which are set out in the Access Licence Dealing Principles Order or the trade is prohibited. Water traded from licences held by WaterNSW to licences held by specified mining lease holders under the new rule cannot be further traded to another water access licence by the mining lease holder. Water cannot be traded back to WaterNSW from the mining lease holder’s licence.