Northern Territory Water Allocation Planning Framework


The Northern Territory Water Allocation Planning Framework sets out the water allocation rules for water resources in the Northern Territory, where there is no resource specific scientific research on environmental and cultural water requirements.

The Framework applies different water allocation rules in the Top End and in the Arid Zones of the Northern Territory because these zones have different recharge and hydrological characteristics:

  • In the Top End, water resources are characterised by regular annual rainfall, and protection for discharges to rivers and springs is prioritised.
  • In the Arid Zone, rainfall and recharge events occur only from time to time and can be separated by years and even decades, management of stored water and groundwater dependant flows is therefore prioritised.

The delineation between these zones in the region of the Northern Territory where they meet has not been well defined previously, with the two areas delineated by geography and climate, rather than the more precise hydrological behaviour of the water resources.

To assist in the application of the allocation rules, the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security undertook an assessment of the water resources in the region to more clearly define resources that can be considered Top End and which are Arid by climate, as well as their characteristics and hydrological responses.

The assessment is published in the Technical Report 55/2020 Territory Stories (

In July 2021, the Department commissioned the National Centre for Groundwater Research based at Flinders University in South Australia to undertake an independent review of the Technical Report and its approach to establishing how water resources are defined under the Northern Territory Water Allocation Planning Framework.

The review concluded that the Technical Report and the approach taken is reasonable and pragmatic.

The Technical Report integrates the Review Recommendations and will be used to include a proposed new section in the in the Water Allocation Planning Framework to define the Top End and Arid Zones based on water resource characteristics.

This will clarify the application of the water allocation rules and ensure decisions are underpinned by science where available.

There is no proposed change to the allocation rules outlined in the Framework or the protections that are outlined in it for rivers and aquifers or environmental flows or flows to groundwater dependant ecosystems.

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