Water Management Principles

The National Water Initiative (NWI)

The National Water Initiative (NWI) was established by the Council of Australian Governments in 2004 to create a national approach to water resource management. All States and Territories are signatories to the NWI which seeks to achieve the following:

  • transparent, statutory based water planning
  • knowledge and capacity building
  • community partnerships and adjustment
  • more confidence for investment through defined water licence security and risks that may arise from future changes to water availability
  • provision of water for environmental flows and other public benefit outcomes
  • provision of water to meet the needs of Indigenous people
  • water trading for more profitable use of water
  • enhanced water use efficiency in urban and rural areas
  • water use metering to provide accurate information for planning and management and
  • recognition of the connectivity between surface and groundwater.

Management of water is vested in the Crown and the Northern Territory Government is responsible for ensuring water resources are sustainably managed.

The Northern Territory is a signatory to the National Water Initiative and is committed to developing water allocation plans for water resources where current or potential water use could pose a possible risk to the ongoing availability and/or health of the resource.

The Water Act (NT)

The Northern Territory Water Act 1992 (the Act) provides the overarching legislative framework for water management. The Act provides for the:

  • investigation
  • allocation
  • use
  • control
  • protection
  • management and
  • administration of water resources.

Part 3 of the Act sets out how roles and responsibilities may be delegated in relation to administering the Act, including the appointment of the Controller of Water Resources.

Part 3 of the Act also sets out how Beneficial Uses, Water Control Districts (WCDs) and Water Allocation Plans (WAPs) may be declared, and how Water Advisory Committees (WACs) and Water Resources Review Panels can be appointed. It also defines the Beneficial Uses of both surface water and groundwater.

The Act provides rights to take water from waterways and aquifers. Water extraction for most uses must be licenced, however water may be taken without a licence for the purpose of stock and domestic use.

Northern Territory Water Allocation Planning Framework

The Northern Territory Water Allocation Planning Framework applies to water resources within and outside water allocation plan areas.

The Framework sets out how water is to be allocated between consumptive and non-consumptive beneficial uses and is based on the principle that water should be allocated to non-consumptive Beneficial Uses (e.g. environmental and cultural values) as a matter of priority, and once this allocation is set, remaining water can be allocated to consumptive beneficial uses (e.g. agriculture).

The Framework establishes contingent allocations for non-consumptive and consumptive uses where scientific research on environmental and/or non-consumptive cultural water requirements is not available, while allowing for alternative allocations to be set where there is scientific research that can be used as a basis for the alternative allocation. The WAPF is sometimes referred to as the ‘80:20’ Rule.

For more information on the Northern Territory WAP Framework PDF (430.1 KB).

Beneficial uses

Under the Act, water is allocated to the following declared Beneficial Uses:

For more information about Beneficial Uses.

Non-consumptive beneficial uses Consumptive beneficial uses
Environmental Public water supply
Cultural Rural stock and domestic
  Mining activity
  Petroleum activity
 Aboriginal economic development

Water Control Districts and Water Allocation Plans

Under the Water Act, the Minister can declare Water Control Districts (WCDs). Water Control Districts are declared in areas where there is a high level of competition for water and/or require closer management of the water resources. This includes the requirement for bore construction permits and for water extraction licences to take surface and groundwater.

Water for rural stock and domestic use is exempt from licensing. There may be other specific exemptions which apply generally in the Northern Territory depending on the water user or detailed in specific water allocation plans.

Water Allocation Plans (WAPs) are declared within WCD. WAPs are developed in consultation with community and technical groups and outline how a particular resource (e.g. a river and/or an aquifer) is to be managed. They set out the objectives, rules and strategies, and monitoring and performance indicators for managing the water resource to maximise environmental, economic, social and cultural outcomes. WAPs set limits to the availability of water assigned to each beneficial use, and define rules for managing licences and water trading.

WCDs and WAPs areas reflect the regions where the Northern Territory Government has identified existing or future pressure on water resources and, following risk assessment, determined that management plans are required.

Refer to a map of the Water Control Districts (WCD) and Water Allocation Plan (WAP) areas.

Refer to information relating to each of the WAPs.

Water resource modelling

Water resource modelling is used by the department to assess the following:

  • sustainable yield and consumptive pool of a water resource
  • water allocation reliability for water extraction licence decisions
  • annual announced allocations.

The water resource modelling undertaken by the department ranges from relatively simple estimates of groundwater recharge right through to integrated numerical surface water and groundwater models. The choice in approach is determined by the nature and complexity of the water resource, the kind of information that is required to inform decisions and by the availability of data and knowledge to construct a model.

Models bring together many different datasets to make predictions about how groundwater and surface water flows and levels might change in response to climatic factors, landuse change or changes in water management approaches.

In the highly connected groundwater and surface water systems in the Top End, for example in the Daly and Roper river catchments and Berry Springs, integrated groundwater and surface water models are used to inform water allocation decisions and water allocation planning. These models can represent many processes in the catchments ensuring that there is coordinated accounting of inflows, outflows and water extractions for the system taken as a whole. The processes represented by the models include:

  • catchment rainfall runoff
  • rainfall infiltrating into the soil and down into groundwater
  • flow in the creeks and rivers
  • river losses into the aquifer
  • groundwater discharge into the river
  • water extractions from the river and from the aquifer.

Last updated: 30 August 2019

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