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NSW Groundwater Strategy

NSW Groundwater strategic priorities and actions

Find out about the strategy’s 3 priorities and 12 actions.

Strategic priority 1

Protect groundwater resources and the ecosystems that depend on them

Our groundwater resources and dependent ecosystems are protected to support current and future uses.

Action 1.1. Refresh, consolidate and expand our groundwater policy framework

To ensure that groundwater management in NSW is sustainable, our groundwater policy framework needs to be more adaptive in response to challenges such as climate change, increasing urban development and land use change. The framework needs to be responsive to new information about our groundwater resources and dependent ecosystems and evolve as awareness of Aboriginal people’s rights to and interests in water and the importance of sustainable groundwater management for future generations increases.

Key actions


Refresh, consolidate and expand our groundwater policy framework

To continue to manage our groundwater resources sustainably into the future we will review, update, consolidate and expand our groundwater policy and planning framework.

Action 1.2. Improve protection of groundwater dependent ecosystems and baseflows to streams

Developing a framework for the protection of important GDEs and groundwater baseflows to streams must be a core priority to facilitate sustainable groundwater management in NSW. Additional mapping, monitoring, information and knowledge will provide a better understanding for the different types of GDEs that exist in NSW, their ecological importance and location and the groundwater characteristics they need to persist and thrive. Adaptive management approaches will be considered so we can respond to new information and situations as they arise.

Key actions


Review and update our methods and processes for protecting groundwater dependent ecosystems and baseflows

We will:

  • better consider groundwater dependent ecosystems in the setting of sustainable extraction limits
  • better identify and manage the impacts of major developments on groundwater dependent ecosystems (see Action 1.5.3)
  • provide for the quality, quantity and timing of water required for groundwater dependent ecosystems through local impact management rules (see Action 1.4.3)
  • implement actions in 1.5.1 to better manage surface water and groundwater connectivity and baseflows.

Deliver a program to improve our understanding of groundwater dependent ecosystems

We will:

  • establish and verify the location, extent, condition and risk to the health of groundwater dependent ecosystems and improve our understanding of the dependence of these ecosystems and stream flows on groundwater
  • ensure our monitoring of groundwater levels, extraction, water quality and ecosystem health can better inform future decisions about groundwater dependent ecosystems and surface water baseflow protection and management.

Action 1.3. Review and update approaches to sustainable groundwater extraction

As our understanding of groundwater resources and dependent ecosystems improves, we can better quantify groundwater volumes, aquifer boundaries and their connectivity with ecosystems and other water sources. The NSW Government has already begun researching and assessing different methods to better inform the definition of groundwater source extraction limits in NSW. Any new methods we adopt will incorporate the most up-to-date hydrogeological, ecological, and socio-economic information and consider the most recent groundwater risk assessments, as well as new climate change data.

There are 54 groundwater sources in NSW that are fully committed, meaning that if each entitlement share were assigned a value of one megalitre (ML), the sum of the entitlement shares plus unlicensed rights to take groundwater meet or exceed the groundwater source extraction limit. If underused entitlements are activated, corrective action may be required to keep total use within the groundwater source extraction limit. This may have financial implications for those that are currently using their full entitlement. As the use of groundwater increases, a coordinated and planned approach is needed to manage this issue.

As we improve our knowledge of the requirements of groundwater dependent ecosystems, surface water–groundwater connectivity, water quality and the links between groundwater extraction and acid sulphate soils or aquifer compaction, we can also refine rules to manage localised impacts on groundwater levels.

Key actions


Review groundwater source extraction limits using new knowledge

We will design and implement an updated and adaptive approach to review extraction limits at the groundwater-source scale that better considers climate change and improved understanding of resource sustainability.


Improve clarity around management of fully committed groundwater sources where the entitlement ‘share value’ is low

We will develop and implement an approach that provides improved clarity to water users on the management of fully committed groundwater sources where the entitlement ‘share value’ is low.


Better manage impacts of extraction at a local level

We will:

  • develop triggers to restrict groundwater extraction to manage impacts to groundwater dependent ecosystems, surface water base flows, risks to water quality, aquifer structure, recharge processes, acid mobilisation in soils and unacceptable interference between users
  • improve clarity for existing, expanding and new groundwater users about local groundwater level drawdown impacts and potential extraction restrictions in areas of high extraction
  • ensure that groundwater management rules for cross-border groundwater sources are harmonised where possible.

Action 1.4. Protect groundwater quality within natural limits

Maintaining groundwater at its highest possible quality means that it is usable for the widest range of purposes. The best approach is to prevent groundwater quality degradation in the first place, as remediating polluted or contaminated groundwater is difficult and costly and (even if possible) may take years or decades.

This action focuses on prevention, early detection, intervention and timely management of activities that could threaten the quality of our groundwater resources, especially in aquifers we know are vulnerable to pollution. It also considers the impacts of climate change and sea-water intrusion on coastal aquifers.

Better groundwater quality monitoring is essential to the success of this action. A collaborative effort will be needed across government agencies and with industry, underpinned by new and updated policy instruments that apply the best available knowledge and science.

Key actions


Review and update our approach to managing groundwater quality

We will:

  • review and update our approach to managing groundwater quality to increase its effectiveness
  • clarify the responsibilities, governance arrangements and processes across local and state government agencies and industry for managing groundwater contamination prevention, risk management and remediation and monitoring and reporting
  • explore mechanisms and programs for reducing the risks to communities from potentially contaminating activities in vulnerable groundwater sources.

Deliver a program to better understand groundwater quality and risks
We will:

  • establish a baseline and on-going groundwater quality monitoring program with associated analytics, including the mapping of groundwater vulnerability to contamination
  • undertake assessments of activities with a high risk of contaminating high-value groundwater resources.

Action 1.5. Better integrate groundwater management with other land and water management processes

Integrating groundwater, surface water and land use management will improve our ability to respond effectively to the challenges facing groundwater resources to ensure that these resources are not compromised and remain available for future generations.

We will move to a framework where land use planning processes and major project approvals better consider and protect groundwater sources and their dependent ecosystem functions early in the planning phase.

We will also adopt a more targeted approach to reducing the impacts on aquifers from large infrastructure projects and industrial activities, recognising that while the current regulatory framework is largely effective, there are regulatory and policy gaps that need to be addressed.

NSW shares several groundwater sources with our neighbouring states and territories, including the Great Artesian Basin, and cross-border cooperation will be critical to sustainably managing and protecting our shared groundwater resources.

Key actions


Manage groundwater and surface water together

We will:

  • improve our understanding of surface water and groundwater connectivity processes – including the role of baseflows in supporting riverine environments and stream discharges to groundwater sources, flooding and groundwater recharge
  • achieve better integration of our river system models and groundwater models by improving the underlying assumptions about the physical surface water and groundwater interactions
  • develop a robust approach to manage surface water–groundwater connectivity and access in water sharing plans
  • ensure that surface water and groundwater management plans complement and integrate with each other where feasible.

Integrate groundwater considerations into land use planning decisions
We will:

  • develop and implement mechanisms to embed groundwater considerations into state, regional and local planning processes
  • improve governance and community collaboration to integrate groundwater management with land use planning and decision making
  • assess and protect vulnerable and significant groundwater resources and recharge areas through the land use planning system and regulatory tools
  • improve our understanding of the natural and human processes causing and affecting potential contamination in groundwater systems and
  • the landscape
  • develop mechanisms to protect significant groundwater recharge areas from destruction or over-development.

Improve management of large developments impacting groundwater
We will:

  • revise the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy, including investigating aquifer interference approvals and new approaches to managing unlicensed aquifer interference activities
  • develop policy and technical approaches to understand and address the individual and cumulative impacts on groundwater of mining activities – including evaluating mining-related groundwater licensing and approval requirements, assessing currently unlicensed legacy groundwater take and the ongoing management of groundwater following mine closure.

Strengthen management of shared groundwater resources
We will:

  • implement critical aspects of the Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan and address policy gaps to ensure the continued recovery of groundwater levels in the Great Artesian Basin
  • develop and implement cross-border agreements that embed shared principles, common management criteria and associated outcomes, and common processes for trade across boundaries where appropriate
  • work with the Australian Government and other jurisdictions to embed groundwater
  • considerations into future revisions of the National Water Initiative and ensure alignment with the strategic priorities of National Groundwater Strategic Framework 2016–2026.

Strategic priority 2

Build community and industry resilience through sustainable groundwater use

Through sustainable groundwater use, water dependent aspirations of Aboriginal people are supported, water resilience for urban populations is improved and development opportunities are realised.

Action 2.1. Support Aboriginal people’s rights, values and uses of groundwater

The NSW Government recognises First Nations people’s rights to water. Our aim is to secure a future where water for Aboriginal people is embedded within the water planning and management regime in NSW to help deliver cultural, spiritual, social, environmental and economic benefit to communities.

We will partner with Aboriginal people to co-design a state-wide Aboriginal Water Strategy that will identify a program of measures to deliver on First Nations’ water rights and interests in water management. We will provide support and opportunities for Aboriginal people to share their knowledge and contribute to groundwater planning and management policies.

We will also take action to identify, recognise, and protect groundwater-dependent sites and cultural values of significance to Aboriginal people.

Key actions


Protect groundwater-dependent places of significance to Aboriginal communities

We will develop a program to identify and enhance protection of groundwater-dependent cultural sites and values in a culturally appropriate way.


Better integrate Aboriginal knowledge into groundwater management

We will:

  • co-design, socialise on Country and implement a program to empower Aboriginal people to fully participate in groundwater management
  • provide training and job opportunities for Aboriginal people in the management of groundwater resources
  • review the legal framework for groundwater management to better integrate Aboriginal people’s knowledge and science into decisions
  • implement an awareness program for government agencies to encourage wider understanding of Aboriginal people’s values, uses and rights to rights to groundwater.

Increase access to groundwater for Aboriginal people
We will:

  • implement any Closing the Gap targets relating to groundwater entitlements and use
  • review the existing cultural access provisions in water sharing plans to overcome barriers to Aboriginal people acquiring these access licences
  • consider reserving unassigned groundwater for Aboriginal people where of benefit.

Action 2.2. Support towns and cities that use groundwater to improve their urban water planning

All water extraction and use must be managed within a larger framework of sustainability, including support towns and industries in NSW. To maintain water supply security towns and cities need to protect their existing groundwater access, diversify their sources of water and plan for their future water needs.

The state government is working in partnership with councils and the broader water sector to provide regional communities across NSW with safe, secure and sustainable water supply and sewerage services.

Key actions


Support improved management of urban groundwater supplies

We will:

  • provide support for local water utilities to understand the level of risk to availability and quality of groundwater supplies
  • develop guidelines for urban borefield construction, maintenance, decommissioning and monitoring as well as wellhead and capture zone protection
  • review the regulation of groundwater stock and domestic basic landholder rights in and around urban centres to assess whether new rules are required to better manage this type of water take – particularly during drought.

Enable efficient and timely integration of groundwater supply options to help growing regional towns and cities, particularly during drought

We will:

  • resolve groundwater regulatory and licensing issues for towns, and explore innovative licensing options for groundwater-based drought resilience
  • work with local governments to identify and protect high value groundwater resources that can be used in drought and to support future growth
  • review and better integrate surface water and groundwater management responses to severe water shortages and other extreme events.

Action 2.3. Support resilient groundwater dependent industries in NSW

Groundwater can support new business ventures and economic growth in the decades to come. However, access to groundwater needs to be managed sustainably. To ensure that regional development is viable, resilient and sustainable – especially under a changing climate – current and future regional planning initiatives will need to understand the groundwater-related opportunities and constraints early in the planning and development process.

Better planning will secure sustainable access to groundwater for industry, and support regional development and economic growth within sustainable limits. Adopting a whole-of-government approach can ensure that clear information about groundwater and its licensing and management framework is available to prospective industries so that both the resource and any new industries are sustainable in the long term.

Technology and innovation can be applied to support communities and industries to improve their access to groundwater, use and store it more efficiently and become more resilient. There are also significant opportunities to use ‘green infrastructure’ – such as managed aquifer recharge – to deliver groundwater management solutions that have community and environmental benefits.

Key actions


Provide better information to communities and industries on groundwater development constraints and opportunities

We will:

  • provide clear guidance to mining and other State Significant Developments about groundwater opportunities, constraints and protection responsibilities that impact their operations through all phases of development, including the management of legacy quality and quantity impacts after closure
  • develop groundwater constraints and opportunities guidelines and information products for regional development initiatives
  • ensure strategic alignment and information sharing concerning the availability and sustainable use of groundwater in regional planning and development initiatives through a timely whole-of-government engagement approach.

Enable the increase of sustainable groundwater use in targeted areas
We will:

  • investigate market or other barriers to sustainable groundwater development in groundwater sources where extraction is low
  • continue to provide opportunities for the controlled allocation of new groundwater entitlements in groundwater sources where entitlements are well within sustainable limits and the risks to the groundwater source and dependent ecosystems is low
  • provide clarity for existing and potential groundwater users on:
    • opportunities and constraints of the groundwater trading market
    • extraction limits, typical bore yields and quality of groundwater in each groundwater source
    • timing, criteria and mechanisms for offering new groundwater entitlements through tender processes (controlled allocation orders)
    • processes for determining the allocations made available each year to entitlement holders (available water determinations)
    • the entitlement ‘share value’ in each groundwater source (see Action 1.3.3).

Foster innovative groundwater solutions, including managed aquifer recharge, to support communities and industries
We will:

  • provide access to, and use of, saline groundwater resources where feasible and sustainable, including ensuring stringent conditions for appropriate disposal of desalination by-products
  • investigate the feasibility and use of green infrastructure groundwater solutions such as managed aquifer recharge, including a policy framework with necessary legislative changes and accounting, assessment and approval processes needed to implement managed aquifer recharge.

Strategic priority 3

Improve groundwater information and knowledge

Better groundwater management and investment decisions are made based on improved information and knowledge.

Action 3.1. Develop the groundwater components of a water knowledge plan

Robust decision-making by government and non- government stakeholders needs to be supported by quality information. With better information and knowledge, the risks to our groundwater and the value it provides decrease. Information and knowledge products such as models must be underpinned by good and accessible data, with systems and management systems that enable its efficient use.

The NSW Government will work closely with the community to understand what they need to know about their groundwater resources and the best approach to building our collective understanding.

Key actions


Develop the groundwater components of a water knowledge plan

The groundwater knowledge plan will target and prioritise information and knowledge to inform Strategic Priorities 1 and 2, including:

  • data, systems, tools and information products required
  • the specific policies for sharing data and models, as well as information sharing opportunities and pathways
  • the mechanisms for review, and periodic update of the knowledge plan, with inclusion of innovative technical solutions as these emerge.

Action 3.2. Better share and integrate groundwater information

While we have made considerable advances in sharing water data, more can be done to integrate groundwater information into existing platforms, improve how we communicate groundwater information and distribute information products as widely and openly as possible.

Once groundwater data is collected, integrating and sharing it between government agencies and with the public can be challenging because different agencies use separate systems and databases to record and store data. We will improve our communication by collating and hosting previously unreleased datasets, including industry-collected data, in a groundwater specific data repository.

Key actions


Better share and integrate groundwater information

To improve access to relevant and accurate groundwater information and data, and consistent with the groundwater knowledge plan, we will:

  • expand the range of knowledge and insights products including information systems, platforms and interfaces for storing, managing, accessing and interrogating groundwater data
  • improve and diversify how we communicate information on groundwater resources and their management
  • support strategic planning and decision making by councils and groundwater users with improved access to information on groundwater and its management
  • develop a unified framework to consolidate and analyse groundwater data across all relevant agencies, groundwater users and impacting activities
  • support data and database integration across agencies to address data gaps and improve customer service delivery.

Action 3.3. Improve our understanding of groundwater resources

Effective management of groundwater requires evidence from both natural and socio-economic sciences. We need to expand our capabilities in multidisciplinary understanding of groundwater, including integrating Aboriginal knowledge into management approaches. We also need to continue to develop new datasets and models that better capture the range of possible climate scenarios.

Enhancing our research into groundwater resources and applying this research to improve groundwater management into the future has been identified within this strategy as a priority for NSW. With a strong foundation of public and private sector water research, NSW is well placed to become a leader in groundwater science.

Key actions


Expand our multi-disciplinary understanding of groundwater

We will:

  • undertake new research to understand groundwater processes
  • better understand socio-economic constraints and opportunities for groundwater demand
  • embed information about water user behaviour and cultural values into our conceptual models for groundwater management.

Improve our groundwater models where required
We will:

  • develop integrated, fit-for-purpose and peer-reviewed numerical surface–groundwater models where needed
  • explore the opportunities to develop and apply multi-disciplinary models that incorporate socio-economic and physiochemical data.

Increase our capacity and capability to apply leading groundwater science
We will:

  • formalise strategic research partnerships between the department and other research and industry-led organisations and agencies
  • maintain a live government groundwater research prospectus that identifies key research gaps in groundwater science and outlines specific research proposals
  • bring together the groundwater community of practice to improve the dialogue about innovative groundwater solutions between researchers, government and industry
  • encourage a pipeline of groundwater professionals in NSW.

Action 3.4. Expand and target our groundwater data collection

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. The state-wide network for groundwater monitoring requires regular re-evaluation and maintenance to ensure we are measuring the right things to make decisions about groundwater.

Once groundwater data is collected, integrated and shared it between government agencies and with the public can be challenging because of separate databases that store data and user agreements. Industry-collected data needs to be confirmed accurate and input to existing databases, industry data is collected form State Significant Developments and major infrastructure projects.

Key actions


Improve our groundwater monitoring infrastructure

We will:

  • optimise our existing monitoring network and align it with current and future management needs
  • invest in asset maintenance to refurbish existing monitoring infrastructure
  • explore and use new technology to enable more efficient collection of groundwater levels and quality parameters.

Improve our groundwater monitoring programs

We will:

  • review monitoring programs to ensure continuity of data series
  • continuously assess the structural integrity and long-term risk of sediment compaction in priority aquifers
  • implement a groundwater quality monitoring program across the state with an emphasis on identifying areas of focus for long-term monitoring
  • increase water quality monitoring requirements for impacting industries
  • ensure we have a suite of mechanisms in place to measure, monitor or account for all groundwater take in NSW (including legacy take, road and rail projects and major infrastructure dewatering)
  • aim to integrate complementary data sources with historical data collection methods
  • publish bore location, bore logs, levels/pressures and quality data.