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Rivers and creeks

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  • Fact Sheets
  • Frequently asked questions

    What is surface water?                                              

    Surface water is the generic term used to describe any water that can be found on the earth’s surface. It includes water from rivers, creeks and catchment run-off water that is collected and stored in dams.

    Surface water is replenished from rainfall. Although run-off from rainfall accounts for most of the water flow in rivers and creeks, a large number of permanent rivers and creeks start out as a result of groundwater (in the form of a spring) flowing into gullies and natural folds in the land.

    Surface water is a limited resource, and needs to be managed sustainably to ensure that rivers and creeks, existing licence holders and the environment are protected.


    How do people access it?
    Surface water is commonly accessed by diverting water from rivers and creeks, usually by powered pumps or gravity fed systems.

    Surface water is also commonly collected in dams (on-stream, hillside, gully dams and more).

    In most cases a licence is required to take and use surface water.


    How is it managed?
    Southern Rural Water helps to protect and manage surface water across Southern Victoria in a region stretching from the South Australian border to the New South Wales border south of the Great Dividing Range, excluding the Yarra Valley.

    Entire agricultural sectors and rural communities are built around this water, including intensive dairy farming, vegetable and other crop production.

    Southern Rural Water manages licences to take and use surface water, and has a number of responsibilities in accordance with the Water Act 1989 which include:

    • ensuring that existing water users comply with licence conditions to protect the resource, the environment, other users and stakeholders
    • ensuring that proposed dams are properly constructed and sited
    • assessing applications according to policies, environmental sustainability, and impacts on Victoria’s water resources.


    What will my surface water licence allow me to do?
    If your application to take and use surface water is approved, your licence will detail what you can use the water for, where the water can be used and the volume of water that you can take and use on an annual basis.

    The licence will also include specific conditions which relate to maximum daily diversion rates, metering and various other conditions that you should read and be aware of.


    Will my surface water use be metered?
    Southern Rural Water requires all new irrigation, commercial, industrial and intensive surface water users including dairies, feed lots, piggeries and poultry sheds to be metered.

    Domestic and stock water use is not metered.

    Meters must be installed by qualified and experienced contractors. All installations must be inspected for compliance to standards and specifications. All meters remain the property of Southern Rural Water.

    Accurate metering will improve the management of surface water and ensure compliance with authorised volumes.


    Do I need a Licence?

    You may also need a Surface Water Licence to take and use water for domestic and stock purposes, when the water is taken from a waterway that does not flow over your property (an example of this would be if there is private land located between your property and the waterway you wish to take water from).

    Everybody’s circumstances are different. If you are unsure whether or not you need a licence, contact us.


    How do I obtain a surface water licence?
    Southern Rural Water issues licences to take and use surface water in accordance with Section 51 of The Water Act 1989.

    To obtain a Surface Water Licence you must apply to us using the appropriate application forms and submitting correct fees.

    Because many surface water areas are fully allocated (meaning no new licences can be issued), please contact our groundwater and rivers staff on 1300 139 510 or complete the online enquiry form below to discuss your proposal before you make an application.


    Transfer of licence ownership – property purchase

    A water licence is not automatically transferred with the sale of a property and we strongly suggest that this is clarified with your agent or solicitor and noted in the contract of sale prior to signing property purchase documents. A properly completed transfer application form must be submitted to SRW before a licence will be transferred regardless of what appears in a sale contract.

    You or your agent can apply for an information statement from us to confirm water licence details linked to the land, tariffs applicable to the licence and also any outstanding monies or debts.


    Domestic Stock use

    You may need a licence
    You may or may not need a licence to take water from a river or creek for domestic and stock purposes, depending on the situation.

    You can take river or creek water for domestic and stock use if:

    • your property title includes the river
    • your property title directly abuts the river
    • you lease Crown Land abutting the river.

    If you are taking water from a source that’s not on your land, or doesn’t fit any of the above categories, you may need a domestic and/or stock licence. Please give us a call to discuss further.

    It is important to remember that if you want to use water for anything other than domestic and stock use, you will need a Surface Water Licence.

    What can you use domestic and stock water for?
    Domestic and stock use, as defined by The Water Act 1989, includes:

    • household purpose
    • watering of pets, cattle or other stock
    • watering around a house for fire prevention purposes
    • irrigation of a kitchen garden (non commercial).

    It does not include use for dairies, piggeries, feed lots, poultry or any other intensive or commercial use.

    If you are unsure about whether you can use domestic and stock water for a particular purpose, we suggest you contact us.

    Renewing your water licence

    Your licence is due to be renewed. Without renewal, you won’t be able to take and use water.

    Water Act 1989 sections 58 and 72 allow for a licence holder to apply to renew their licence before it expires.

    Around March of each year, we will send you information on what you need to do to renew your licence.


    Below is a list of some frequently asked questions:

    Why do I have to renew my licence?

    Your licence to take and use water and to operate works is valid for a fixed term (usually for several years, ending on 30 June in the year of expiry). If you wish to keep the licence, the Water Act 1989 states that you must apply to renew it before it expires.


    Why haven’t I had to renew my licence before when I have had it for so long?

    All licences are reviewed toward the end of their term. It could be that your licence was issued 15 years ago and this is the first time it has been due for renewal.

    How do I renew my licence?
    You need to:

    • review the information SRW provides you
    • advise us of any changes, and
    • pay the application fee (if required)


    When does my licence expire?

    Your licence expires on 30 June – the actual year it expires will be outlined on your licence.

    If you want to continue to take and use water and to operate your works, you must submit an application to renew before the expiry date of your licence.

    If you do not lodge your application with us before the expiry date, you will no longer have authorisation to take and use water.


    How long will my licence be renewed for?

    Our aim is to renew your licence for 15 years, however, we may consider a lesser time in situations where the impacts of taking water are uncertain.


    What happens to my renewal?

    • In most cases, licences will be renewed without fuss. However, we must consider the requirements of the Water Act 1989 in known problem areas during the process. In some cases, we may introduce new conditions on licences in these areas to protect other water users, yourself and/or the
    • Due to large numbers of licences being renewed, it may take some time to have all applications assessed. If we expect delays, we will tell you.


    What if I no longer need my licence?

    If you don’t need or want your licence any more, talk to us about your options:

    • you may be able to trade your licence on a temporary or permanent basis
    • you can surrender your licence. Any outstanding fees must be settled before a licence can be


    What if the licence is not in my name or the licence owners have changed?

    Water licences are ‘owned’ by the people named on the licence.

    If the name on a licence has changed, you will be asked to complete a ‘transfer of ownership’ application form.

    All those people listed on the licence must agree and sign the “transfer of ownership” application form.


    What if the named licence holders have died?

    In this instance, a licence can usually be updated if one of the surviving licence holders provides us with a death certificate, will or probate information.

    If all named licence holders are deceased, the executors of the estate will need to submit a ‘transfer of ownership’ application to us.

    We would also require a copy of the will to verify that the new licensees are the people named in the will.


    What if I have sold the land but not the licence – can I still renew for 15 years?

    No. If the land noted on a licence has been sold to another person (and not replaced) you cannot renew for 15 years. However, to allow you enough time to transfer the licence, the licence may be renewed for a maximum period of 12 months.

    We recommend you contact us if you are in this situation.


    What happens when you apply to take and use water?

    When we receive your application, we immediately:

    • scan it and add it to our record keeping system
    • send you a receipt for any fees you have paid, and

    We then assign it to one of our Assessment Officers, who will see your application through to the end.

    They will check your application to make sure that you have given us all we need to assess your proposal.

    If something simple is missing, they will call you. If something more important is missing, they will write to you. We cannot work on your application until we have all of the details we need.


    Assessing your application

    The process explained

    When we assess an application, we must think about:

    • current water users, waterways and how close they are to you
    • section 40 of the Water Act 1989
    • government policies
    • local management rules or plans
    • irrigation development guidelines if they apply

    Technical work

    If necessary, we may ask you to provide technical information about your proposal. This often happens when we think your proposal may affect other users or the environment.


    Asking for comment

    If your proposal may affect other users or the environment, or is for a significant volume of water, we need to give people a chance to comment. We require you to:

    • advertise your proposal in a local newspaper
    • let your neighbours know about your application by formal letter

    We will provide you with templates for the required advertising and neighbour letters.

    We will also refer your application to agencies such as the catchment management authority, local council, urban water authority, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

    The public and agencies have 28 days to provide comments.

    If we receive several adverse comments, we may invite all interested parties to a meeting. This gives people a chance to:

    • discuss the proposal in more detail
    • talk about any concerns

    If you have given us expert technical information, you should also bring along the consultant who provided this information.


    Making a decision

    When we have looked at all information and comments, we will either:

    • approve your application, and outline the conditions that will apply
    • refuse the application, and tell you the reasons why

    We will also advise all interested parties of the decision, and provide a “Statement of Reasons” which explains our decision.


    How long will it take?

    If you apply for new water, or for a large permanent transfer, we aim to decide within 60 days (from the time we receive all required details).

    If you apply for a temporary transfer, we aim to decide within 14 days.


    You can appeal

    No matter what we decide, anyone can lodge an appeal to VCAT within 28 days of the decision being made.

    Because of this, we delay sending you the final documents until the appeal period has passed.

  • Rivers and Creeks management rules and plans
  • Taking water from rivers and creeks

    In most cases, you need a Surface Water Licence to take water from any waterway.

    You must understand and comply with the licence conditions, including the amount of water you can pump.

    Any person who is using or intending to use surface water for a commercial use must have a licence to take and use that water.

    Commercial use includes irrigation, dairy shed water, mining, aquaculture, feedlots, piggeries, poultry farms, golf/sporting areas, guest accommodation, water bottling and snow making.

    You may also need a Surface Water Licence to take and use water for domestic and stock purposes, when the water is taken from a waterway that does not flow over your property (an example of this would be if there is private land located between your property and the waterway you wish to take water from).

    Everybody’s circumstances are different. If you are unsure whether or not you need a licence, please contact us on 1300 139 510.


    The application process

    Southern Rural Water prefers that our customers have no surprises during the application process. We strongly urge anyone thinking of taking water from a waterway to talk to one of our assessment officers before you apply.

    Please see our factsheet on What happens when you apply to take and use water.

    All river basins in Victoria now have caps. For basins that are fully allocated, no new licences will be issued. However, you may be able to buy or temporarily transfer an unused licence from someone else.

    For basins that are not fully allocated, you may be able to obtain a licence. In many cases, this will be limited to taking water during the winter months (known as winterfill).

    Surface Water Licences are assessed against a number of points, including:

    • The point where you intend to pump from
    • The amount of water you intend to take
    • The current volumes already being taken from the system
    • The potential of your pumping to interfere with other users or the environment
    • The long-term sustainability of the waterway and the environment

    When you contact us, we can provide you with an application form, which also outlines any additional information you may need to provide (such as property maps, environmental assessments etc).

    In many cases, applications for Surface Water Licences must be advertised locally, including notifying neighbours, and submitted to relevant authorities for comment. We will provide you with templates.


    Licence conditions

    If your licence is approved, it will be subject to conditions, including:

    • How much water you can take and from where and when
    • Installation of a meter to measure and monitor your water use
    • The need to comply with restrictions, rosters and bans
    • Other conditions

    Water quality/quantity

    Southern Rural Water does not guarantee the quality or quantity of any surface water. Surface water should not be considered safe for human consumption unless properly treated.

    To get an idea of what water quality you might expect, check with your local Catchment Management Authority, the EPA or Southern Rural Water’s environmental team. However, we recommend that you test your water quality regularly, particularly in summer months when blue-green algae outbreaks can occur. For information on water use during a blue-green algae outbreak, see



    All commercial use of surface water must be metered.

    Southern Rural Water will provide a water meter at cost. It must be installed to our specifications, either by yourself or a contractor. We will inspect the installed meter to ensure it meets our standards.

    All meters remain the property of Southern Rural Water.

    Domestic and stock licences do not need to be metered.


    More information
    Contact us on 1300 139 510 for more information or to make an appointment to chat to one of our assessment staff.