Accessing water through the coastal harvestable rights increase
Who is eligible for the increase in harvestable rights?
All landholders in the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area (Figure 1) can increase the capacity of the harvestable rights dams on their landholding up to the maximum harvestable right dam capacity with reference to 30 per cent of rainfall runoff. Harvestable right dams must meet the location, size and construction requirements specified in the harvestable rights order. See Coastal harvestable rights for more information.
Important: While you may be allowed to build a larger harvestable rights dam, there are limitations on the use of water from the dam.
Figure 1. Coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area.
See ‘What can I use the water from the increase in coastal harvestable rights for?’
What do I have to do to access water up to the new 30 per cent harvestable rights limit?
- Check the map (Figure 1) to ensure your landholding is in the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area.
- Use the Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator to calculate the maximum harvestable right dam capacity for your landholding. Print (or save as a PDF) the results from the calculator and retain that record.
- Determine the capacity of any existing harvestable rights dams on your landholding, or any other existing dams you would like to convert for use as a harvestable rights dam.
See ‘How do I determine the capacity of existing harvestable rights dams on my landholding?’
- Check that the dams you want to build or use meet the location requirements for harvestable right dams set out in the Order.
See ‘Where can I build a harvestable rights dam?’ and ‘Where can’t I build a harvestable rights dam?’
- Check the requirements for constructing or enlarging a dam/s and any other approval conditions (if applicable) set by your local council or other authority.
See ‘Do I need development consent or other approvals to construct a new harvestable rights dam or enlarge an existing dam?’
- Submit a notification form to the department:
- within 28 days of commencing works to construct or enlarge a dam
- before converting use of an existing dam on your landholding to a harvestable rights dam.
The notification form is required for dams that will store water above the 10 per cent dam capacity and up to the 30 per cent maximum dam capacity for your landholding.
- Use the water captured and stored in these dams in accordance with the permitted uses
See ‘What can I use the water from the increase in coastal harvestable rights for?’ and ‘Can I still use my current harvestable rights water for any purpose?‘.
Where can I find the new coastal harvestable rights order and what does it do?
The Harvestable Rights (coastal-draining catchments) Order 2022, which commenced in May 2022, can be found online. The Order sets out the new coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area and the rules for capturing, storing and using harvestable rights water.
When can I build a bigger harvestable right dam?
The new arrangements commenced on 13 May 2022, so you can build a new harvestable rights dam or enlarge an existing one within the coastal-draining catchments from that date.
You need to check for and obtain any applicable approvals required under other legislation (for example, a development approval may be required in your local government area).
You may also want to consider whether to immediately invest in constructing or enlarging a harvestable rights dam above the previous 10 per cent capacity limit or wait until the catchment-based assessment has been completed for your area. Adjustments might be made to the harvestable rights limits in certain coastal-draining catchments following those assessments. Landholders who choose to construct a new dam or enlarge an existing dam to access the additional harvestable right before the assessments have been completed, do so at their own risk. Any dams built or enlarged within this timeframe will need to be resized at a later date if the harvestable rights limit is reduced in the catchment.
See ‘Do I need development consent or other approvals to construct a new harvestable rights dam or enlarge an existing dam? ’and ‘If I increase the size of a dam or build a new dam and then the harvestable right limit is decreased or low-flow bypasses or other mitigation measure are required, will I need to modify my dam?’
Does the increase in harvestable rights mean I can collect 40 per cent of rainfall runoff from my property?
No. The changes allow you to capture a volume of water representing up to 30 per cent of average annual regional rainfall runoff from your landholding in harvestable right dams (in coastal-draining catchments). The Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator will determine a dam capacity with reference to a) 10 per cent of rainfall runoff and b) 30 per cent of rainfall runoff, but the maximum dam capacity for your landholding is the capacity stated at (b), and is not (a) + (b).
Size of harvestable rights dams
How is the maximum harvestable right dam capacity calculated?
The maximum harvestable right dam capacity (MHRDC) for a landholding is calculated using the WaterNSW Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator. The MHRDC is based on the size and location of a landholding. A harvestable rights multiplier is applied to each landholding. It varies across the state as it takes into account regional evaporation, periods between runoff-producing rainfall events and assumed demands on harvestable rights dams.
In coastal-draining catchments, the output from the calculator with reference to 10 per cent of rainfall runoff is multiplied by three to reflect the increase in harvestable rights from May 2022. However, any area of a landholding that drains into an ‘excluded works’ dam (or dams) is deducted from the MHRDC calculated for the landholding.
See ‘Are any parts of my landholding excluded from the maximum dam capacity calculation for the new 30% limit?’
What size dam/dams can I build under the new 30 per cent harvestable rights limit in coastal-draining catchments?
The Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator has been updated so you can calculate the maximum harvestable right dam capacity for your landholding with reference to the new 30 per cent limit.
The calculator does not take into account other harvestable rights dams already on your landholding. If you have existing harvestable rights dams, you must take the capacity of these dams into account when determining how large a new or expanded harvestable rights dam can be.
See ‘Does the increase in harvestable rights mean I can collect 40 per cent of rainfall runoff from my property?’ and ‘How do I determine the capacity of existing harvestable rights dams on my landholding?’
Are any parts of my landholding excluded from the maximum dam capacity calculation for the new 30 per cent limit?
If you are located within the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area, the area of your landholding that drains to following types of ‘excluded works’ dams is deducted from the calculation of your additional harvestable right. These are listed in clauses 1-4 of Schedule 1 to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018:
- Dams solely for the control or prevention of soil erosion:
- from which no water is reticulated (unless, if the dam is fenced off for erosion control purposes, to a stock drinking trough in an adjoining paddock) or pumped, and
- the structural size of which is the minimum necessary to fulfil the erosion control function, and
- that are located on a minor stream.
- Dams solely for flood detention and mitigation from which no water is reticulated or pumped and that are located on a minor stream.
- Dams solely for the capture, containment and recirculation of drainage and/or effluent, consistent with best management practice or required by a public authority (other than Landcom or the Superannuation Administration Corporation or any of their subsidiaries) to prevent the contamination of a water source, that are located on a minor stream.
- Dams approved in writing by the Minister for specific environmental management purposes:
- that are located on a minor stream, and
- from which water is used solely for those environmental management purposes.
How do I determine the capacity of existing harvestable rights dams on my landholding?
An important part of determining a landholder’s ability to construct new dams or enlarge existing dams is the estimation of the capacity of dams currently on a landholding.
The instructions below provide a simple method to estimate dam capacity. If any of the dams are greater than 10 megalitres in capacity, then you will need to do a more accurate calculation to determine the dam’s capacity.
If you require further assistance with these calculations please contact WaterNSW on 1300 662 077 or Customer.Helpdesk@waternsw.com.au in the first instance.
- Decide the shape of the dam from the options above.
- Measure the relevant width and length at top water level and record these numbers. All dimensions need to be recorded in metres.
- Measure the maximum depth of the dam and record this number.
- Use the formula relevant to the dam shape above to calculate surface area in square metres of each dam and record the results.
- Using the following formula for all dam shapes, calculate the volume in cubic metres.
Volume = 0.4 x Surface Area x Depth Record the results.
Note: The conversion factor of 0.4 takes into account the slope of the sides of dams.
- Divide this volume by 1000 to convert cubic metres to megalitres. This is the dam capacity in megalitres (ML).
If you have existing dams on your landholding that are mixed-rights dams (that is, they capture rainfall runoff under the harvestable right but also store other water lawfully taken from a water source), then you will need to contact WaterNSW to get assistance with calculating the harvestable rights volume within the dam.
Does my maximum harvestable rights dam capacity change if I subdivide or sell part of my property?
Because the maximum harvestable right dam capacity (MHRDC) is directly related to the size of your landholding, when you subdivide or sell part of your landholding, your MHRDC is reduced proportionally. For example, if you sell half of your landholding, your MHRDC is halved.
If your landholding is being subdivided, then some of the resultant smaller landholdings may have dams that are greater than the revised MHRDC for that new landholding size. You will need to reduce the size of those dams or apply for works approvals for the dams and obtain a water access licence for the volume of water that exceeds the revised MHDRC. There is no guarantee that the licence or approval will be issued.
It is recommended that you contact WaterNSW before finalising plans for subdividing or selling part of your landholding.
Do I have to measure or meter harvestable rights water?
No, harvestable rights water use does not need to be measured. Each landholding has a maximum harvestable right dam capacity (MHRDC) which represents a percentage of rainfall runoff. The MHRDC is the volume of water that can be legally captured and stored on a landholding under harvestable rights. If a harvestable rights dam is constructed within the limits and the water captured by the dam is used in accordance with the harvestable rights rules, then there is no constraint on the number of times the dam can be emptied and refilled by rainfall runoff and no requirement for water taken by the dam to be recorded and reported.
Constructing harvestable rights dams
Do I need any approvals from WaterNSW or the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) before I enlarge or build a new harvestable rights dam?
You do not need a water access licence, water supply works approval, water use approval, or controlled activity approval under the Water Management Act 2000 to build a harvestable rights dam, provided you meet the requirements set out in the relevant harvestable rights order.
You may, however, need approvals under other legislation before you can build or enlarge dams.
See ‘Do I need development consent or other approvals to construct a new harvestable rights dam or enlarge an existing dam?’ and ‘Do I need a licence or approvals if I have a mixed-rights dam?’
Do I need a water access licence or approvals if I have a mixed-rights dam?
Yes, in some cases. Mixed-rights dams are dams that capture and store harvestable rights water as well as other water that has been lawfully taken from a water source (such as under another form of basic landholder right, a water access licence or some form of exemption). Contact WaterNSW for more information on licensing and approvals required for mixed-rights dams and determine what will be needed based on your specific circumstances.
Do I need development consent or other approvals to construct a new harvestable rights dam or enlarge an existing dam?'
The requirement to obtain planning consent for dams – classed as a ‘water storage facility’ – differs between local government areas according to rules in the relevant Local Environment Plan.
In some areas, even if a development consent for a water storage facility is required, some types of dams don’t need development approval if they are classed as ‘exempt development’. The criteria that councils put in place for when a dam is considered ‘exempt development’ varies; it may not be based solely on volume but the height and thickness of the dam wall to ensure dam safety.
Contact your local council or refer to the relevant Local Environment Plan to find out what rules apply in your area.
Landholders should also be aware of and seek any other approvals that may be applicable under legislation such as the:
- Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (contact your local Council)
- Fisheries Management Act 1994
- Crown Land Management Act 2016
- Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016
- Coastal Management Act 2016.
Where can I build a harvestable rights dam?
Harvestable rights dams can be constructed on minor streams, hillsides and gullies. Minor streams include non-permanent first- and second-order streams determined using the Strahler stream ordering system. The Strahler stream ordering system is described in the image and instructions below. Fact sheets are also available.
Landholders need to use the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018 Hydro Line spatial data to identify minor streams on their landholding.
The Strahler system considers the following in determining the stream order of a watercourse:
This pattern continues to form higher order streams.
Figure 2. The Strahler stream ordering system.
Where can’t I build a harvestable rights dam?
For landholdings in the coastal-draining catchments and central inland-draining harvestable rights areas, dams cannot be built (as at the time of construction or first use of the harvestable rights dam):
- on, in or within 40 metres (measured perpendicularly) of any stream that is not a minor stream
- on any floodplain (that is, any floodplain formally declared under clause 252 of the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018)
- on or within 3 kilometres upstream, including within stream and within the catchment generally of, a Ramsar wetland. Ramsar wetland sites in NSW are available.
For landholdings in the Western Division of NSW, harvestable rights dams cannot be built on:
- a stream classified as a third or higher order stream
- land depicted on certain topographic maps as land subject to flooding or inundation, or lakes shown on those maps as Perennial or Intermittent
- land on or within 3 kilometres of a Ramsar wetland.
I’m in a coastal-draining catchment area – what happens if I build an ‘excluded works’ dam after I have taken up my full maximum harvestable right dam capacity?
Within that harvestable rights area, any portion of the property that drains to an ‘excluded works’ dam is deducted from the calculation of the maximum harvestable rights dam capacity (MHRDC) for the landholding. If that portion on the landholding increases in future due to the construction of more ‘excluded works’ dams, the MHRDC must be recalculated and the total harvestable rights capacity on the landholding must conform with the revised MHRDC. In this case, the harvestable rights dams may need to be reduced in size, or a works approval and water access licence obtained to cover the capacity in the dam (or dams) that now exceed the MHRDC.
Can I build a leaky weir instead of a dam to capture and store harvestable rights water?
No. Harvestable right orders only allow dams to be constructed to capture harvestable rights water. No other type of water supply work or structure may be used to capture harvestable rights water.
Will people who were subject to compliance action for exceeding the existing limits - but now comply with the new coastal-draining catchment limits - have that action dropped?
No, the changes only apply to new or larger dams built from the time the new Harvestable Rights Order commences. Landholders who built and/or used structures exceeding their harvestable right in the past did so unlawfully and will still be subject to any compliance action.
Note that any landholder in this category has been able to benefit from the additional water taken and used from unlawful structures between the time they were constructed and the time the compliance action occurred.
Permitted uses of harvestable rights water
What can I use the water from the increase in coastal harvestable rights for?
Water stored in harvestable rights dams with a combined capacity greater than the dam capacity with reference to 10 per cent of rainfall runoff (and up to the maximum harvestable rights dam capacity with reference to 30 per cent of rainfall runoff) can only be used only for domestic consumption, stock watering and extensive agriculture purposes. These are defined as:
- domestic consumption means consumption for normal household purposes in domestic premises situated on the land
- stock watering means the watering of stock animals being raised on the land, but does not include the use of water in connection with the raising of stock animals on an intensive commercial basis that are housed or kept in feedlots or buildings for all (or a substantial part) of the period during which the stock animals are being raised
- extensive agriculture means any of the following—
- the production of pasture or and fodder crops for the primary purpose of feeding livestock
- the care of livestock, not including livestock raised on an intensive commercial basis that are housed or kept in feedlots or buildings for all (or a substantial part) of the period during which the livestock are being raised.
What can’t I use the water from the increase in coastal harvestable rights for?
The water cannot be used for aquaculture, intensive livestock agriculture or intensive plant agriculture activities, including:
- intensive dairies
- pig farms
- poultry farms
- turf farming
- cultivation of irrigated crops for commercial purposes (other than irrigated pasture or fodder crops).
Can I still use my current harvestable rights water for any purpose?
Landholders located in the central inland-draining and Western Division can use their harvestable rights water for any purpose, unless it is captured and stored in a mixed-rights dam.
See ‘If I store water in a mixed-rights dam, can I use it for any purpose?
Landholders in the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area can still use some of their harvestable rights water for any purpose, provided it is captured and stored in a dam (or dams) with a combined capacity not exceeding the dam capacity which represents 10 per cent of rainfall runoff for the landholding. The online Maximum Harvestable Rights Dam Capacity Calculator will calculate and tell you the capacity with reference to 10 per cent of rainfall runoff, so you will know what this level is for your landholding.
If you want to build or use a single harvestable rights dam that exceeds the dam capacity representing 10 per cent of rainfall runoff (but is still within the 30 per cent maximum harvestable rights dam capacity for the landholding), then the use of all the water in the dam is limited to domestic consumption, stock watering and extensive agriculture purposes.
Why do I need a separate dam or dams to keep harvestable rights water that can be used for any purpose if I’m in a coastal-draining catchment?
The new rules need to be enforceable and we want to make it as easy as possible for landholders to understand and follow the requirements of the new harvestable rights order. By keeping water that can be used for any purpose in a separate dam, it makes it easier to show the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) that you are complying with the limitations on the use of water taken in harvestable rights dams above the 10 per cent capacity threshold.
This arrangement avoids the need for the government to impose requirements for landholders to closely measure and record the amount of water stored in a harvestable rights dam and used from that dam.
*NRAR is the independent agency responsible for the enforcement of water laws in NSW through monitoring, compliance and education.
Why can’t I use the increase in harvestable rights for any purpose in coastal-draining catchments?
The limits on the use of water captured under the increased harvestable right act to minimise total water demand and the volume of water withheld from downstream dams and streams. This reduces the risk of impacts to river flows, downstream environments, water users and communities.
The taking of water for intensive agricultural purposes is provided for by the water licensing system and through the rules set out in relevant water sharing plans.
If I store water in a mixed-rights dam, can I use it for any purpose?
The permitted use of water in a mixed-rights dam will depend on the licence, rights or exemption used to capture and store the non-harvestable water in the dam.
In the central inland-draining and coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights areas water can only be used for domestic consumption and stock watering if the other water in the mixed-rights dam is captured under the following circumstances:
- in the exercise of a domestic and stock right under section 52 of the Water Management Act 2000,
- under a domestic and stock access licence or a licence granted under Part 5 of the Water Act 1912 for stock and domestic purposes,
- under an exemption provided for in clauses 6 and 7 of Schedule 1 to the Water Management (General) Regulation 2018.
Can I move water from my harvestable rights dam to other dams on my property?
In the central inland-draining and coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights areas, water cannot be moved from a harvestable rights dam to any other dam on the property, including an ‘excluded works’ dam or a turkeys nest dam.
The only exception for landholdings in the coastal-draining catchments harvestable rights area is that water stored in a larger harvestable rights dam where the use is restricted to domestic consumption, stock watering and extensive agriculture, can be moved to another dam that has the same limitations on use.
I have a mixed farming enterprise with both extensive and intensive agricultural activities - how can I show I am complying with the permitted use rules that apply in coastal-draining catchments?
If you already have a harvestable right dam or dams that capture and store water up to the dam capacity representing 10 per cent of rainfall runoff and wish to continue to use the water for any purpose, these dams will need to remain at the current capacity.
New dam/s can be constructed up to the maximum harvestable rights dam capacity representing 30 per cent of rainfall runoff, but the water captured and stored in these dams can only be used for domestic consumption, stock watering and the extensive agriculture on the farm.
See ‘Why do I need a separate dam or dams to keep harvestable rights water that can be used for any purpose if I’m in a coastal-draining catchment?’
What crops can I irrigate with the additional harvestable rights water in coastal-draining catchments?
Only pasture and fodder crops produced for the primary purpose of feeding livestock can be irrigated with water captured in dams with a capacity greater than the 10 per cent threshold and up to the 30 per cent maximum harvestable rights dam capacity for your landholding.
If I have a few chickens or pigs in addition to my extensive agriculture enterprise, am I still able to use the increased right to provide them with drinking water?
Yes. Drinking water for a small number of poultry and pigs is a permitted use for the increase in harvestable rights as it falls under the definition of ‘stock watering’. That is, provided the stock are not ‘raised on an intensive commercial basis that are housed or kept in feedlots or buildings for all (or a substantial part) of the period during which the livestock are being raised’.
See ‘What can I use the water from the increase in coastal harvestable rights for?’
Managing potential impacts of the coastal harvestable rights increase
Will the changes affect the environment and downstream water users?
The potential effects on downstream flows that are important for the environment and water users were assessed in a hydrological modelling study of 10 case study catchments as part of the Coastal Harvestable Rights Review. These were detailed in the discussion paper published for community consultation, and they vary considerably by catchment.
Commencing later in 2022, more detailed assessments will be undertaken in each coastal-draining catchment to confirm the appropriateness of the increase in the harvestable rights limit to 30 per cent of rainfall runoff. In the meantime, some important mitigation measures are in place:
- harvestable right dams can only be constructed on non-permanent first- and second-order streams, hillsides and gullies and cannot be built on third- or higher order streams, close to RAMSAR wetlands or on declared floodplains
- the additional harvestable rights water can only be used for domestic consumption, stock watering and extensive agriculture purposes to limit demand on water and overall volume captured and stored in harvestable right dams
- landholders who can already take more rainfall runoff than the previous maximum harvestable right dam capacity under regulatory exemptions cannot benefit from the change over-and-above other landholders
- landholders must notify the department before they take up the additional right so growth in farm dam development can be monitored and factored into future water planning processes.
Why aren’t harvestable rights being extended to third-order streams?
Third-order streams are generally larger streams that are more likely to provide permanent flows to rivers. Modelling of case study catchments indicated that allowing harvestable right dams on third-order streams would have a much greater effect on downstream flows than dams on minor streams.
Some water sharing plans already allow for dams on third-order streams subject to approvals and/or licences that enable dam specific assessments and conditions to manage the higher risks associated with dams in these locations.
Why is the government implementing the increase across all catchments instead of using a catchment-based approach?
An increase across all coastal-draining catchments is in place to improve on-farm water security for basic needs while further assessments are completed to confirm the appropriate limit for each catchment. The assessments will provide an opportunity to consider catchment specific characteristics and increase or decrease the limit if required.
Potential future changes to coastal harvestable rights limits
Will the 30 per cent limit be amended or reduced in the future?
The catchment-based assessments commencing later in 2022 will confirm whether the new limit remains appropriate at the local level, considering the needs of the environment, other water users, and communities within each catchment, and will seek to simplify the requirements where possible. The harvestable rights limit in each catchment may be increased or decreased depending on the available evidence, to make sure the potential benefits and impacts are being appropriately balanced between landholders, downstream environments, water users and communities.
What are low flow bypasses and will I be required to install them on my harvestable rights dams?
Low flow bypasses are devices that can be installed on dams. They have the potential to reduce impacts of the dam on downstream low flows and freshes by diverting runoff from smaller rainfall events around the dam. These devices are currently used in parts of South Australia and Victoria, but more work is needed to determine whether they would function effectively and be cost-effective under all NSW coastal conditions.
During 2022, the department is reviewing if low flow bypasses are a cost-effective and practical option to minimise impacts on downstream low flows and freshes in NSW. Based on the outcomes of the review, field trials may be conducted. If proven effective, landholders may need to retrofit low flow bypasses into larger harvestable rights dams.
Landholders will be kept up to date via Water News and other communication channels.
If I increase the size of a dam or build a new dam and then the harvestable right limit is decreased or low-flow bypasses or other mitigation measure are required, will I need to modify my dam?
Any dams built or enlarged to access the additional harvestable right from May 2022, but before the assessments have been completed (and considered by the Minister at that time) do so at their own risk. Any dams built or enlarged within this timeframe will need to be resized at a later date if the harvestable rights limit is reduced in the catchment.
If additional mitigation measures are required, such as installing a low flow bypass, you will need to ensure the dam construction and operation complies with the requirements as specified in the harvestable rights order.
When will the catchment-based assessment be undertaken to confirm the appropriateness of the 30 per cent limit in my catchment?
Catchment based assessments will commence later in 2022. The method for conducting the assessments and determining priority areas for assessment are in development.
Further information will be shared on the department website and via Water News as it becomes available.
Will harvestable rights limits be increased in inland areas too?
No. Inland areas are subject to sustainable diversion limits under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, so any increase in harvestable rights water take in that area would need to be directly offset by reductions in other forms of water take, like licensed water use.
Background information on the coastal harvestable rights increase
Why is the limit on harvestable rights being increased to 30 per cent in coastal-draining catchments?
The changes follow a comprehensive review and consultation process and will improve water storage capacity for landholders to help with drought resilience as dry periods become more frequent and extreme.
The changes will:
- reduce the likelihood of landholders having to buy in water for domestic use
- reduce the likelihood of landholders having to buy stock feed and/or destock a farm during extended dry periods
- increase on-farm water storage capacity for landholders
- improve water security for domestic, stock and extensive agriculture
- enable greater fire protection with greater amounts of water stored through the landscape.
How were communities consulted on the changes?
The department ran a public consultation to discuss a range of issues and options around increasing harvestable rights to different runoff percentages and/or allowing dams on larger, third-order streams.
In formulating its response to the review, the government considered the feedback and comments provided by stakeholders along with the results of hydrological modelling and other investigations undertaken as part of the review.
Read the What we Heard report (PDF, 5477.92 KB) to learn more about the key themes from community consultation and the government’s response to feedback.
More information on past consultation can be found on the Coastal Harvestable Rights Review page.
Has the review on coastal harvestable rights now concluded?
Yes. The increase to harvestable rights in coastal-draining catchments is now in place.