When a water licence is needed

Under the Water Act 2000, you may need a water licence for taking or interfering with surface water or underground water, or for taking overland flow water.

Your water licence describes what you are entitled to, including any limits and conditions that apply. You also need to comply with any rules that apply to your water licence under the Water Regulation 2016, water plan or water management protocol.

Surface water

Water licences for taking or interfering with water in a watercourse, lake or spring are generally required for purposes such as:

  • irrigation
  • industrial or commercial use
  • storing water behind a weir
  • impounding water behind a storage structure
  • diverting water from a watercourse
  • storing water in excavations that are within or connected to a watercourse
  • stock or domestic use on lands that do not adjoin a watercourse, lake or spring.

Overland flow water

In some areas of Queensland, you may need a water licence to take or interfere with overland flow water. These areas are identified in moratorium notices and water plans.

Underground water

Generally, you will need a water licence to take underground water in groundwater areas established through the Water Regulation 2016 or a water plan.

Limits on taking water under a water licence

Water licences to take water will either state a maximum volume of water that may be taken in a year or will state a maximum area of land that may be irrigated in a water year (area based water licence). Water licences may be subject to measurement requirements outlined in the Water Regulation 2016.

For an area based licence, you can:

  • irrigate a single area, or multiple areas that do not exceed the licensed area when combined.
  • irrigate multiple crops where the growing seasons overlap if the total cropped area does not exceed the licensed area.

Under an area based licence, irrigating multiple areas on alternate days or weeks is not allowed if the total area will exceed your licensed area. Additionally, other approvals may be required if you are changing the size of the pump associated with an area based water licence.

Water use in excess of your licensed area is an offence under the Water Act 2000 and may result in compliance action.


If you are unsure about how to interpret the limits and conditions of your licence, contact your local business centre for assistance.

Failure to ensure you have the required licence or failure to follow the rules and requirements of your licence may result in prosecution under the Water Act 2000 for the following offences:

  • unauthorised taking or supplying of water
  • unauthorised interfering with water
  • contravening a condition of a water licence
  • tampering with a device used under the Water Act 2000 to measure the volume of water taken, or the rate and time of taking of water.

The department undertakes routine property audits to ensure compliance with water licences.

Find out more on how we approach water resource compliance and enforcement.