Across most water resources in NSW, a system of water licences and allocations is used to manage the take of water from water sources. Management of water resources is provided for under NSW’s Water Management Act 2000 via WSPs, and is intended to ensure that water resources are shared sustainably between multiple users, including the environment. It largely supersedes NSW’s Water Act 1912, which is being progressively phased out as new WSPs are developed, but still applies in areas without plans and some provisions are still in force. Licensed entitlements provide an indication of economic demand on a water resource and may be constrained by a long-term average annual extraction limit (LTAAEL) or diversion limit on the resource. The maximum permissible take under a licence is typically greater than what is actually taken in any given year.
Allocations are used to limit extractions held under entitlement from the regulated river in response to the availability of water in the water supply storages. In times of good water availability, allocations for all classes of licence will be 100% (or more), meaning that the licensee is entitled to extract the maximum permitted under the licence. When water availability is low, a licence holder may be permitted to extract a volume less than the full entitlement. Thus annual allocations provide an indication of the stress on water resources over time.
Supplementary water licences are issued in regulated reaches, which permit licence holders to access storm flows that cannot be controlled in storages and is not required to meet environmental flow or other high priority right holder demands. Supplementary water is essentially surplus to the regulated requirements and is available opportunistically (i.e. when a period of supplementary access is announced by DPI Water).
At July 2015, total surface water entitlements, including supplementary entitlements, in the Hunter subregion amounted to approximately 767 GL/year, or not more than 579 GL/year when the long-term annual average extraction limits on take from the Hunter Regulated River water source (217 GL/year) and by the Hunter Water Corporation (HWC) across all its water sources (79.5 GL/year) are taken into account. This total includes most of the water source areas covered by the WSP areas shown in Figure 5. It does not include licensed entitlements for four of the five water sources in the Central Coast unregulated water source WSP area: Tuggerah Lakes and Brisbane Water water source areas, because the volumes are negligible (34 and 234 ML/year, respectively); and Mooney Mooney Creek and Mangrove Creek water sources, because they are outside and drain away from the subregion. Table 8 summarises surface water entitlements by water source for Hunter regulated and unregulated water sources, Wybong River, Jilliby Jilliby Creek, Ourimbah Creek and Wyong River water sources. Some of the Hunter river basin water sources extend beyond the subregion boundary (Figure 5), so licensed volumes within the Hunter subregion will be less than the total reported in Table 8. Companion product 1.3 for the Hunter subregion () provides an estimate of 385 GL/year surface water access rights within the subregion itself.
The Hunter Regulated River water source is one of the most heavily allocated with close to 246 GL/year of licensed entitlements. However, the Water Sharing Plan for the Hunter Regulated River Water Source 2003 sets a long-term average annual extraction limit (LTAAEL) of 217 GL/year on extractions, including extractions under supplementary water licences (estimated from modelling to be 49 GL/year on average). Thus the current volume of licensed entitlements exceeds the LTAAEL, indicating a fully allocated system. Acquiring a perpetual water use licence and/or an annual allocation water can only occur through the water market.
The Williams River and Newcastle water sources also have large volumes of water held under entitlement (total of 348 GL/year), but this volume greatly over-estimates what is strictly available for extraction. The HWC holds a 239 GL/year entitlement to water in the Williams River water source, plus another 100 GL/year from the Newcastle water source, for water supply to the Newcastle region. However, the LTAAEL from all their water sources (which also includes 60 GL/year entitlement to water in the Tomago sandbeds) is 79.5 GL/year, which has been determined from a population-based estimate of water requirements for the water supply region. The high entitlement volume ensures that HWC has maximum flexibility in refilling storages after droughts. In Table 8, the Williams River water source volume of 87.82 GL/year given in parentheses assumes an LTAAEL of 79.5 GL/year for HWC, while the 247.32 GL/year includes their total entitlement volume of 239 GL/year. The Newcastle water source volume has not been adjusted, although some of the 79.5 GL/year attributed to the Williams River water source would come from it.
In the smaller Macquarie-Tuggerah lakes basin, licensed entitlements total about 50 GL/year.
Water licences are typically issued for a specified purpose. Table 9 summarises water entitlements by licence type/purpose for all water sources, as well as just the Hunter Regulated River water source, with the same caveats applying as for Table 8. Urban and industrial uses dominate water use in the Hunter subregion. This is reflected in the volumes licensed to major utilities, for urban water supply and power generation and to local water utilities, which amount to about 57% of licensed entitlements (including supplementary water). General security licences account for about 18% of licences on issue with another 16% licensed to users in the unregulated water sources. High security licences represent a relatively small component of the entitlement pool, but about 55% of these are held by mining companies. Mining companies also hold about 26% of general security licences and a small proportion (4%) of supplementary licences (), in all about 47 GL/year of entitlements. Agricultural water uses would account for much of the general security water licences.
Table 8 Surface water licences and entitlement volumes at July 2015, grouped by water source area in the Hunter river basin and Macquarie-Tuggerah lakes basin in descending order of licensed volume
Table 9 Surface water entitlement volumes grouped by purpose in the Hunter river basin and Macquarie-Tuggerah lakes basin (rounded to nearest GL)
Figure 6 summarises annual allocations in the Hunter Regulated River water source from 2004-05 to 2011-12 (similar water allocations were made for the Paterson Regulated River water source also (NSW Office of Water, )). Allocations are differentiated by category of water access licence: 'Major utility' refers to major town water supply and power generation licence holders (e.g. Hunter Water Corporation; Macquarie Generation); 'Local water utility' refers to smaller town water supply providers (e.g. local councils); 'General security' and 'High security' licences pertain to regulated river reaches, with high security licence holders having greater surety of a full allocation in dry years than those holding a general allocation licence. It can be seen that during this period, 'Domestic and stock', 'Local water utility' and 'Major utility' licence holders were allocated 100% of their entitlements (NSW Office of Water, ). 'High security' and 'General security' licence holders received 100% of entitlements each water year except for2006-07 when high security allocations fell to 92%, and general security allocations to 35%, of entitlements due to the severest drought in the last 20 years. At this time Glenbawn Dam and Glennies Creek Dam were at 32 and 34% of their capacity, respectively, their lowest levels in the 20 year period (Table 3 and Figure 4).
Annual allocations to supplementary water are more variable because these allocations are made in response to high streamflow, when the available water cannot be captured in storages and is deemed to exceed any immediate water needs and specific environmental requirements. Supplementary water allocations were low (<30% of the long-term average annual volume of 49 GL/year) between 2004 and 2007, but in four of the five subsequent water years, supplementary water allocations greatly exceeded the modelled estimate of the long-term average annual volume.
Product Finalisation date
- 1.5.1 Current water accounts
- 126.96.36.199 Surface water
- 188.8.131.52.1 Water storage in the Hunter river basin
- 184.108.40.206.2 Water storage in the Macquarie-Tuggerah lakes basin
- 220.127.116.11.3 Gauged inflows and outflows in the Hunter river basin
- 18.104.22.168.4 Gauged inflows in the Macquarie-Tuggerah lakes basin
- 22.214.171.124.5 Surface water entitlements and allocations
- 126.96.36.199.6 Water use in the Hunter Regulated River water source
- 188.8.131.52.7 Gaps
- 184.108.40.206 Groundwater
- 220.127.116.11 Surface water
- 1.5.2 Water quality
- 18.104.22.168 Surface water
- 22.214.171.124 Groundwater
- Contributors to the Technical Programme
- About this technical product