A NSW Government website

Aboriginal Water Programs

NSW Aboriginal Water Strategy

The Aboriginal Water Strategy developed with Aboriginal communities will ensure access to water resources for Aboriginal people.

Bellinger River, Mid North Coast in NSW. Image courtesy of Nathan Peckham.

About the strategy

In collaboration with First Nations/Aboriginal people, the NSW Government is developing a state-wide Aboriginal water strategy. The strategy will identify ways of increasing water rights and ensure that First Nations/Aboriginal people are empowered to contribute to water management and planning decisions.

The strategy is being developed through a genuine partnership between the department and NSW Aboriginal stakeholders and communities. It is based on listening to what has been said in the past and is heard during the process.

The need for the strategy was identified during consultation with Aboriginal communities over many years.

Watch the video

Overview of the development of the Aboriginal Water Strategy.

The yarns we’ve had

We listened to Aboriginal communities, Traditional Owners and representative organisations, including NSW Aboriginal peak bodies, during discussions on water strategies and planning from 2018-2023.

These engagements involved more than 150 workshops, 300 interviews and 50 meetings and informal discussions.

  1. 2018 – 2019: Water resource planning 

    The department adopted a Nation-by-Nation approach to engaging at a grassroots community level on water resource plans. More than 250 First Nations people were involved in 53 workshops in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.

  2. 2019 – 2020: NSW Water Strategy development 

    A coalition of Aboriginal peak organisations were brought together to develop content for the NSW Water Strategy and to progress engagement, policy and strategy outcomes.

  3. 2020 – 2023: Regional water strategies

    The department provided funding for 2 project officers to support cultural protocols in regional water strategies. The project officers facilitated where, who and when, communities were engaged. Aboriginal people were involved in 50 facilitated workshops.

Read more in 'Yarning with communities on water management' and 'Engagement with Aboriginal Communities'.

Strategy principles

During these consultations, 6 important principles regarding water that matter to Aboriginal people were identified by Aboriginal communities, Traditional Owners and representative organisations, including NSW Aboriginal peak bodies.

The endorsed and adopted 6 principles are outlined below and include comments shared by the Aboriginal community members and organisations during consultations.



Water is central in Aboriginal culture. We need water to sustain us socially, economically and environmentally.

“Ensure that sacred sites and other Aboriginal cultural aspects are taken into consideration when dealing with and issuing water licences and approvals.”

Health and well-being

Health and well-being

We need at water (quality and quantity) to sustain healthy communities and our ability to live on and care for Country.

“Reduce the stress and distress caused to Aboriginal people when water access is reduced.”

Caring for country

Caring for country

Improve and enable our access to Country to maintain healthy waterways.

“Apply best practice guidance for the protection of Aboriginal cultural rights in sites of significance.”

Meaningful engagement

Meaningful engagement

Involve us in water management and government decision-making in a way that suits our culture.

“Establish Aboriginal governance arrangements for NSW water – that provide for full participation and input from all regions, in relation to all aspects of water planning and management.”

Economic benefit

Economic benefit

Find ways to increase work and business opportunities with water we can access now and through additional water we could access in the future.

“Support the need for ownership, management and trading of water entitlements and allocation to improve the economic development from water rights.”

Shared cultural and environmental benefits

Shared cultural and environmental benefits

Find ways to deliver Aboriginal outcomes and benefits from water that is allocated for other purposes.

“Secure flows for social, economic, spiritual, and cultural purposes.”

We thank the many Aboriginal organisations and people who have shared their wisdom and views on water resource initiatives in recent years. We acknowledge and have listened to what you have said and prepared a draft objectives and actions document. This document will be used as a starting point for the development of the Aboriginal Water Strategy.

Next steps

The department has proposed the strategy be developed in 3 phases.

  1. Phase 1: Listening

    Together with peak Aboriginal organisations and the Regional Aboriginal Water Committees the draft objectives and actions document will be reviewed to ensure it accurately reflects the voices we have heard.

    We will also work together on preparing an implementation plan that outlines the activities the department will undertake to meet the commitments of the Aboriginal Water Strategy.

  2. Phase 2: Review ‘Have we got it right?’

    Peak Aboriginal organisations, Regional Water Committees and the NSW Government will provide feedback on a draft Aboriginal Water Strategy.

    The draft Aboriginal Water Strategy will go on community exhibition of the draft Aboriginal Water Strategy for feedback from local Aboriginal community members and other stakeholders.

  3. Phase 3: Approval and release of the Aboriginal Water Strategy

More information

The Aboriginal Water Strategy developed with Aboriginal communities will ensure access to water resources for Aboriginal people.

Engaging with Aboriginal people as a commitment to improving cultural, economic, and social outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Recognise First Nations/Aboriginal People’s rights and values and increase access to and ownership of water for cultural and economic purposes.

A 20-year state-wide strategy to improve the security of our water resources.

Contact us

For further enquiries, please contact the Aboriginal Water Program Team:

Email: awp.engagementteam@dpie.nsw.gov.au
Call: 1300 081 047