A NSW Government website

NSW Water Strategy


An alphabetical list of commonly used terms from the Strategy and their definitions.

NRAR staff inspecting equipment.



Access licence

An access licence entitles its holder to take water from a water source in accordance with the licence conditions.

Key elements of an access licence are defined in section 56(1) of the NSW

Water Management Act 2000 as:

  1. specified shares in the available water within a specified water management area or from a specified water source (the share component), and
  2. authorisation to take water:
    1. at specified times, at specified rates or in specified circumstances, or in any combination of these, and
    2. in specified areas or from specified locations (the extraction component).

An access licence may also be referred to as a water access licence or a WAL.


The specific volume of water licence holders can access. The amount of water allocated to licence holders varies from year to year based on the type of licence, amount of share component, dam storage levels, river flows and catchment conditions.

Basic landholder rights

Where landholders can take water without a water licence or approval under section 52, 53 and 55 of the NSW WaterManagementAct2000.

There are three types of basic landholder rights under the NSW Water ManagementAct2000:

  • Domestic and stock rights—where water can be taken for domestic consumption or stock watering if the landholder’s land has river frontage or is overlying an aquifer.
  • Harvestable rights—where landholders can store some water from rainfall runoff in dams.
  • Native Title rights—anyone with a Native Title right to water, determined under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993.


A natural drainage area, bounded by sloping ground, hills or mountains from which water flows to a low point. Flows within the catchment contribute to surface water sources as well as to groundwater sources.

Climate variability

Describes the way key climatic elements, such as temperature, rainfall, evaporation and humidity, differ from the average over time. Variability can be caused by natural or man-made processes.

Environmental water

Water allocated to support environmental outcomes and other public benefits. Environmental water provisions recognise environmental water requirements and are based on environmental, social and economic considerations, including existing user rights.


The process by which water or another liquid becomes a gas. Water from land areas, bodies of water and all other moist surfaces is absorbed into the atmosphere as a vapour.


Flat land bordering a river or stream that is naturally subject to flooding and is made up of alluvium (sand, silt and clay) deposited during floods. Floodplain harvesting is the collection or capture of water flowing across floodplains.


Water located beneath the surface of the ground in the spaces between sediments and in the fractures of rock formations.


The amount of water coming into a surface water source or groundwater source.

Local water utilities

Generally these are council owned and operated utilities that provide water supply and sewerage services to local communities.

Native Title rights

Non-exclusive rights to take and use water for personal, domestic and non-commercial communal purposes (including the purposes of drinking, food preparation, washing, manufacturing traditional artefacts, watering domestic gardens, hunting, fishing and gathering and recreation, cultural and ceremonial purposes).

Operational rules

The procedures for managing releases and extractions of water (surface and groundwater) to meet the rules of relevant legislation and policy (e.g. water sharing plans, long-term water plans).

Paleoclimate data

Refers to climate records prior to instrumental records. Various environmental indicators can be used to reconstruct paleoclimate variability extending back hundreds to thousands of years in time. These indicators include marine and terrestrial deposits, tree rings and ice cores.

Regulated river

A river system where flow is controlled via one or more major man-made structures (e.g. dams and weirs). For the purposes of the NSW Water Management Act 2000, a regulated river is one that is declared by the Minister to be a regulated river. Within a regulated river system, licence holders can order water which is released from the dam and then taken from the river under their water access licence.


Resilient water resources are those that are able to withstand extreme events, such as drought and flood, and/or adapt and respond to changes caused by extreme events.

Stochastic climate datasets

Stochastic climate datasets are extended climate sequences that are synthesised using statistical methods applied to observed data of rainfall and evapotranspiration and can include paleoclimatic data. These extended sequences include a more complete sample of climate variability, part of which describes more severe drought sequences.


A state-owned dam, weir or other structure which is used to regulate and manage river flows in the catchment. There are also a range of storages owned by local water utilities. Also refers to the water bodies impounded by these structures.


Flow generated from rainfall falling on hard (impervious) surfaces.

Surface water

All water that occurs naturally above ground including rivers, lakes, reservoirs, creeks, wetlands and estuaries.

Sustainable diversion limit

Sustainable diversion limits define how much water, on average, can be used in the Murray-Darling Basin by towns, communities, industry and farmers in a particular surface water or groundwater source.

The limit is written into law in NSW through water sharing plans.

Unregulated river

These are rivers or streams that are not fully controlled by releases from a dam or through the use of weirs and gated structures. However, in some catchments there are town water supply dams that control flows downstream.

Water users on unregulated rivers are reliant on climatic conditions and rainfall.

For the purposes of the NSW Water Management Act 2000, an unregulated river is one that has not been declared by the Minister to be a regulated river.


Water that is an output of or discharged from a particular activity, for example, from domestic, commercial, industrial or agricultural activities.

The chemical composition of the wastewater (compared to the source) will be contaminated.

Water security

Water security refers to the acceptable chance of having town water supplies fail. This requires community and government to have a shared understanding of what is a ‘fail event’ (for example, no drinking water or unacceptable water quality) and the level of acceptability they will pay for.

Water resource plan

A plan made under the Commonwealth WaterAct2007that outlines how a particular area of the Murray-Darling Basin’s water resources will be managed to be consistent with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. These plans set out the water sharing rules and arrangements relating to issues such as annual limits on water take, environmental water, managing water during extreme events and strategies to achieve water quality standards and manage risks.

Water rights

The legal right of a person to take water from a water source such as a river, stream or groundwater source.

Water sharing plan

A plan made under the NSW Water Management Act 2000, which sets out the rules for sharing water between the environment and water users, and between different water users, within whole or part of a water management area or water source.

Water source

Defined under the NSW WaterManagementAct 2000 as ‘the whole or any part of one or more rivers, lakes or estuaries, or one or more places where water occurs naturally on or below the surface of the ground and includes the coastal waters of the State’.

Individual water sources are more specifically defined in water sharing plans.

Water trade

The process of buying and selling water entitlements and water allocations.


Wetlands are areas of land where water covers the surface of the ground, either all year or just at certain times of the year. They include swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes and lagoons.

Wetlands may be natural or artificial, and the water within a wetland may be static or flowing, fresh, brackish or saline.