Gulf unallocated water release (Gilbert, Norman, Leichhardt and Nicholson rivers)

Current status

On 14 March 2024 the department decided to cancel this unallocated water release and has withdrawn the Terms of Release. The department will progress with the publication of a final report. Any unallocated water that has not been granted under this process will remain within the general reserve of the current Gulf Water Plan.

We are releasing unallocated water to support economic development opportunities for irrigated agriculture and other commercial enterprises in the Gilbert, Norman and Nicholson catchments and the Lower Leichardt sub-catchment.

Before applying, read the terms of release and the information below. Then follow the instructions in the terms of release to apply.

Applications will be accepted until all the water is allocated. Details of the available water are provided below.

For more information or to apply, email

How much water you can get

Water is available up to the volumetric limits listed in the table below.

AreaTotal availableProperty limit
Gilbert River (Zone 6 AMTD 0km–171km) Up to 75,000 megalitres Up to 25,000 megalitres per property
Gilbert River (Zone 6 and unzoned area from AMTD 171km–368km) Up to 10,000 megalitres Up to 2,000 megalitres per property
Norman Catchment Area F Up to 3,000 megalitres Up to 3,000 megalitres per property
Lower Leichhardt Subcatchment Area (iv) 0 megalitres (all water allocated) 0 megalitres (all water allocated)
Nicholson Subcatchment Area (i) Up to 4,400 megalitres Up to 4,400 megalitres per property

Price and payment

There are 2 payment options. You can pay either:

  1. Full value amount – $125 per megalitre upfront.
  2. Annual instalment amount – $13 per megalitre per year for 10 years.

Considerations when selecting a payment plan

Your ability to trade entitlements will depend on the payment plan you choose (check the terms of release (PDF, 529KB) for details).

Purpose of the release

The release of unallocated water in the Gulf will support sustainable agriculture and maximise the economic benefits to the region by enabling projects to start as soon as they have secured water. The release is being targeted at landholders entering into irrigation activity or expanding existing activity.

The nominated volumes allow for a reasonable scale development to commence and rapid assessment. The volume of water being made available reflects known demand and the need to retain water for emerging large-scale proposals.

Note: Water is not being made available from the Flinders River to allow time for proponents to develop and submit large-scale infrastructure proposals. We will evaluate these proposals and consider whether to release unallocated water for large-scale projects in the Flinders catchment in early 2021.

Additional requirements

Vegetation clearing approvals

To be eligible for unallocated water, the proposed development footprint must be free of vegetation management constraints. Request a property report and vegetation map for more information about vegetation clearing constraints.

Cultural heritage

Ensure you consult traditional owners and the cultural heritage register and avoid known cultural heritage sites when determining your development footprint.

Timeline for demonstrating take of water or construction of infrastructure

There is a significant volume of water already allocated in the Gulf water plan area which has not yet been utilised. In response to community feedback, this release process encourages water to be allocated for genuine development opportunities.

As a condition of any licence granted from unallocated water, you will need to demonstrate your intention to use water – either by physically taking water or at least constructing infrastructure capable of taking water within 3 years of obtaining the water licence.

Transfers and other licence changes

Change of land ownership

The entitlement issued for unallocated water is a water licence that attaches to land. If the land is sold, the new owner of land becomes the water licence holder and will need to fulfill the licence conditions.

Transferring the licence

Transfer of licences is subject to group B water transfer rules, as stated in the Gulf resource operations plan (PDF, 4.8MB).

Licences granted with an annualised payment plan must not be permanently relocated, unless the total value of the water is paid in full.

Impact on existing entitlements and the environment

Licences granted will include conditions that are designed to meet environmental flow objectives and protect existing users' access to water.

The annual and daily volumes identified in the terms of release for each zone provide limits that ensure new entitlements will not compromise the reliability of existing entitlements. Flow thresholds will ensure that peak flows continue to provide ecological benefits to waterholes, floodplains, estuaries and Gulf fisheries.

Related water release

Water is also being released from the Flinders River Catchment Area to support new and existing agricultural development and directly associated industries.