Water resources

Managing water use, protecting our waterways and promoting water sustainability
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Guideline: Spring exemptions is part of the department’s policy framework. The purpose of the guideline is to clarify interpretation of section 5(1)(a) of the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 (the Act). There is no change to existing legislation on the spring exemption. 

The guideline establishes a voluntary self-assessment process to assess whether section 5(1)(a) applies to a spring on a property. The guideline outlines the relevant considerations that need to be taken into account by landowners and occupiers of land when determining if the circumstances on their property meet the requirements of section 5(1)(a).

Field guide: Spring exemptions has also been established that should be used after you have read and are familiar with the definitions and guidance provided through the guideline.

The department strongly recommends that you complete the self-assessment process in the guideline and compile all relevant evidence to support your determination that your circumstances meet the requirements of section 5(1)(a) before you begin any activities relating to the take of water. This is important as the ordinary meaning of ‘spring’ is different to the definition of ‘spring’ under the Act.

In complex cases, or where you have uncertainty about the self-determination, you will need to contact the department or engage a suitably qualified water specialist to ensure the hydrological elements of section 5(1)(a) of the Act are appropriately considered. You will need to pay all costs to engage water specialists.

If a spring on your property satisfies all the considerations under section 5(1)(a) of the Act, then taking water from that spring will be exempt from regulation under Part III of the Act.

If a spring exemption applies, you should ensure:

•     the spring is not excavated as water must naturally rise to the surface

•     a dam is not constructed over the spring and reservoir water does not flood the spring.

You may need to measure or estimate the volume of water from the spring to ensure you only take the exempt volume of water.

If a spring exemption does not apply, then Part III of the Act applies (in proclaimed surface water areas) and you will need to apply to the department for a:

•     licence to take water (section 5C)

•     permit to interfere with bed or banks of a watercourse (section 17).

You must not undertake any activities until the department has granted the licence and/or permit authorising the taking of water or construction of works.

If you have any queries or require additional information, please contact our local office based on your property’s location.


On 17 December 2021, the department released the Draft guideline: Spring exemptions under Part III section 5(1)(a) of the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 for public comment. The public consultation period closed on 31 May 2022.

A Consultation summary report capturing the main feedback themes and our response has been published alongside the final guideline and field guide (see below).