Water Act

The primary tool for managing and protecting the Territory’s water resources is the Northern Territory (NT) Water Act 1992.

View the NT Water Act 1992.

View the Water Regulations 1992.

A number of statutory bodies have been established under the Water Act 1992. The members of such committees are selected by the Minister and are comprised of representatives such as landholders, community groups, industry, agriculture, non-government organisations, government agencies and individuals who provide professional advice in a field of expertise.

Water resources review panel

The review panel is an expert, advisory and non judicial group which can be called upon by the minister to provide independent advice on reviews of decisions made under the water legislation.

For more information either:

Northern Territory water regulatory reform

The Northern Territory Government has already taken steps to reform the Water Act 1992 that ensure mining and petroleum activities are now subject to licensing and permitting requirements under the Act and that water is reserved for Aboriginal economic development in the form of an Aboriginal Water Reserve.

Government is committed to an agenda for ongoing water regulatory reform informed by the Water Reform Directions Paper 2018 and the Report Card against the Directions Paper released in January 2021.

The reform agenda also supports Government’s agreed recommendations of Territory Economic Recovery Commission Final Report which highlighted the need for greater certainty and timeliness in regulatory decision making.

What happens next

Amendments to the Water Act 1992 are scheduled for 2021-22 and 2022-23 to support efficiencies in the administration of the Act through the Statute Law Amendment (Territory Economic Reconstruction) Bill and through future omnibus legislation focused on reforms to various Acts under the administration of the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security.

The Administrator has given her assent to the Statute Law Amendment (Territory Economic Reconstruction) Act 2021 (Act No. 19 of 2021). Provisions relating to the Water Act commenced 29 September 2021.

The Water Regulatory Reform 2021-23 Information Paper DOCX (83.1 KB) provides details about the amendments due to commence and proposed through future omnibus legislation. The information paper was updated on 23 September 2021.

In 2018 the Northern Territory Government published the Water Regulatory Reform Directions Paper which outlined its plans for water regulatory reform.  In January 2021 a report card outlining the achievements in water regulatory reform was published.  The report card also set stage for the ongoing water regulatory reform which through 2020-21 and into 2022 is directed toward:

  • increasing efficiencies
  • clarifying the requirements of the Water Act 1992 (Water Act)
  • establishing risk based, proportionate regulation.

This ongoing agenda for water reform also supports the Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission final report as the Territory looks forward to recovery post-COVID.

The following information gathers together information about water regulatory reforms relating to mining activities and includes information on transition of environmental regulation of mining activities from the Mining Management Act 2001 (MMA) to the Environment Protection Act 2019 (EP Act).

Mining Activity

Under the reform agenda the application of the Water Act to mining activities took effect as of January 2018. The application of the Water Act is supported by transitional arrangements which provide for a staggered approach to water extraction licensing based on the date that mining management plans are authorised.

Existing exemptions relating to groundwater extraction bores that extract groundwater at a rate of less than 15 litres per second will remain in place until January 2022 at which time mining activities will be excluded from that exemption. This is consistent with government’s commitments and community expectation that mining activities will be subject to regulation under the Water Act.

Mining activities that take less than 5 mega litres of groundwater a year on a mineral lease outside the Darwin Rural Area are exempt from water extraction licensing requirements.  This is a general exemption applicable to all groundwater users outside of the Darwin Rural Area.

For clarification the practice of dewatering an open pit via an in-pit sump and pump does not meet the definition of a bore under the Water Act, and does not require a water extraction licence. This activity is currently regulated via the MMA.

If however, bores are used to intercept water and extract water to prevent it from entering a mine pit, a water extraction licence would be required.

Environment Protection Act 2019

The regulatory requirements for managing environmental impacts from mining activities will transition from the MMA to the EP Act. Draft amendment legislation to establish the new environmental management framework are expected to be released for consultation in late 2021.

The proposed new framework comprises a risk based, outcomes focussed, environmental registration and licensing scheme.

Environmental impacts associated with mining activities to be regulated under the EP Act include: clearing of native vegetation, interference with a waterway, bore construction, waste management and wastewater discharges.

Water extraction will continue to be regulated under the Water Act.

For clarity, dewatering an open mine pit via an in-pit sump and pump would be regulated under the EP Act; but dewatering via a bore that intercepts and extracts water prior to pit entry would be regulated under the Water Act.

Last updated: 20 October 2021

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