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Fair access to water

Everyone in Victoria has the right to access a share of water for personal or business use. It is also important that individual users do not adversely impact other users or Victoria’s environmental values. That is why individuals should make sure they have the right authorisations before they take water from a dam, bore, stream, river, creek or irrigation channel.

The volume of water authorised to be taken in Victoria by an individual is specified in a water entitlement or allowed for under a statutory right. The Victorian water entitlement framework is designed to ensure that individual entitlements to water are explicit, enforceable and, in appropriate circumstances, tradable.

Read more about Victoria’s Water Entitlement Framework and the Water Act 1989.

Individuals have rights to take water for domestic and stock purposes in certain circumstances. Read more about domestic and stock water use.

Traditional Owner groups with a formal natural resource agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 have rights to take water in certain circumstances.

Water shares and licences

Water shares or licences are issued by the relevant local water corporation as authorised under the Water Act.

If you wish to take water from a dam, bore, stream, river, creek or irrigation channel, you should contact your water corporation to understand your rights and obligations. There are 6 water corporations that provide non-urban water supplies to customers:

  • Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water*
  • Goulburn-Murray Water
  • Southern Rural Water
  • Lower Murray Water*
  • Melbourne Water
  • Coliban Water*.

*Only applies to rural customers.

Complying with your water share and licence

Water theft is a crime. It is against the law to take more than your share of water, even if it is a small volume of water. Whenever a little more water is taken than is allowed, it can easily add up and there is limited water to go around.

Most water users are responsible and abide by conditions in water shares and licences. Each year, however, a small number of users break the law. They may take water without a water share or licence, build an illegal bore or dam, or interfere with a water meter on a public waterway. Sometimes, these offences are deliberate. Sometimes, they happen because people do not know the law.

Water corporations have several enforcement options against those who break the law. These include issuing warning letters, notices of contravention or commencing prosecution. In August 2019, Victoria passed new legislation that strengthens penalty provisions in the Water Act and makes it easier to prosecute water theft. The Water Act now:

  • includes a maximum fine for intentional water theft and related offences if they cause substantial harm, to $990,000 for companies and $198,000 for individuals
  • allows for the suspension or cancellation of licences for taking water and works
  • enables water corporations to issue penalty infringement notices for less serious offences.

Talk to your local water corporation to understand your rights and obligations under the Water Act and the conditions on your water share or licence.

Read more about how Victoria manages and enforces water compliance.

Page last updated: 08/09/23