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Importance of water compliance and enforcement

As a precious resource, we need to manage water for all water users. Effective and strong compliance will allow all users fair access to water.

Effective compliance allows fair access to water and confidence in the water entitlement framework.

Strong culture of compliance in Victoria

With a strong commitment to its compliance record, Victoria will maintain the integrity of the water market. This compliance commitment will also help protect the environment.

The Water and Catchments Legislative Amendment Act 2019 (Amendment Act):

  • strengthened penalties
  • boosted enforcement measures
  • made it easier to prosecute offences.

With a focus on strengthening compliance, the Amendment Act:

  • increased the maximum fine for intentional water theft and related offences if they cause substantial harm
  • allowed for the suspension or cancellation of licences for taking water and works
  • allowed water corporations to issue penalty infringement notices for less serious offences.

The tougher penalties and enforcement measures show that offences of water misuse or theft are taken seriously.

Role of water corporations in maintaining compliance

Water corporations are responsible for compliance and enforcement of the rules. They also have legislative requirements

  • for the take and use of water
  • construction or works on a waterway.

Water corporations have compliance strategies to show how they will meet their obligations under the Water Act 1989 (the Act). This includes measures to effectively manage and prioritse compliance risks

Principles for good compliance strategies

We have guidelines for water corporations to create compliance strategies that work. The Non-urban Water Compliance and Enforcement Guidelines for Water Compliance sets out 5 principles for compliance.

Having risk-based compliance strategies means the efficient use of resources. This means focusing on areas where the risk of compliance breaches are the greatest. This does not mean low-risk areas are not monitored.

A responsive compliance system helps water corporations be more proactive. Water corporations can help by giving users information and tools to comply with the Act.

Tough enforcement actions against breaches of law is also a feature of a responsive compliance system. Enforcement actions can include:

  • issuing warning letters
  • issuing penalty infringement notices
  • cancelling or suspending a licence
  • prosecution for serious breaches.

Transparency is an element of good governance. Transparency allows the public to see water corporations' compliance and enforcement activities.

Accountability reinforces public confidence in the legitimacy and fairness of water sharing.

Accountability shows who handles decisions relating to compliance and enforcement.

Having a consistent enforcement approach means everyone must follow the same rules. This helps maintain fair access to water.

Safeguarding against water theft

Water corporations have several tools that help with compliance.

Non-urban water metering plays a vital role in compliance with the Act. It allows:

  • users and water corporations to measure how much water they are taking
  • water corporations to account for water distribution and use.

Over the past 20 years, Victoria has made major investments in metering. By installing thousands of meters and implementing the non-urban water metering policy, Victoria now has Australia's largest fleet of modern meters.

Approximately 30,000 meters have telemetry that can provide data on water use in real-time or daily. The data allows water users to:

  • better monitor their own usage
  • stay within the limits of their water shares or licences.

Telemetry on meters also helps water corporations:

  • prevent water theft
  • detect water theft.

Water corporations own and maintain meters. Water corporation officers read meters to check that no-one is using more water than their water share or licence allows.

Many irrigation systems today also have automated control systems. These systems:

  • provide water corporations with accurate information about water deliveries and losses
  • prevents people from ordering more water than water corporations allow.

Management of Victoria’s water resources falls under an entitlement framework. Water shares and licences are entitlements issued to individuals by water corporations.

Water corporations are issued bulk entitlements. The entitlements oblige water corporations to distribute water fairly to all water users.

Transparency and accountability are important for a successful compliance culture. The two elements build public confidence in the legitimacy and fairness of water sharing.

Victoria has a comprehensive list of water resources where you can learn more.

Victorian Water Register and water accounts

Victoria’s Water register is a key source of information for water users. The water register allows water users to track their take of water against their entitlements. This allows for better self-regulation and compliance.

The water register also helps water users verify that trades follow market rules. Reviews of these rules occur regularly to make trading easier.

Another key source of information is the Victorian water accounts. These water accounts summarise the levels of annual availability of:

  • water
  • rainfall
  • streamflow
  • storage.

The water accounts also track the use of water to its end use. Other market information is also available from the Victorian Water Register.

Water corporations help users better understand their rights and obligations with:

  • awareness raising campaigns
  • interactive education opportunities.

Water corporations also have tools to help water users meet their obligations. This includes apps for users to check their water use.

Other public education tools include:

  • regular committee meetings with customers to talk about key issues and solutions
  • publication of newsletters and media releases highlighting compliance and enforcement activities.

Talking to the public reassures everyone that the compliance system is working. It also demonstrates the consequences of committing an offence and can be an effective deterrent.

Water corporations can take the following enforcement actions, including:

  • warning letters
  • notices of contraventions
  • restricting water supply or delivery
  • penalty infringement notices
  • suspension or cancellation of a licence
  • prosecutions.

The type of enforcement action taken will depend on the severity of the offence and risk profile of the water user. You can learn how enforcement actions will escalate on the compliance pyramid below.

Compliance pyramid

Graphic showing the escalation of enforcement actions. At the bottom of a pyramid sits advisory letters and education, monitoring and auditing programs that encourage and assist compliance. Higher up the pyramid are restrictions, notices and warning letters aimed at directing compliance. At the top of the pyramid sits revocation or suspension of licences and shares, prosecution, fines and imprisonment, and penalty infringement notices as the highest level of enforcement tools. Source:

View a larger version of the image.

Strengthening compliance and enforcement in Victoria

You can find the government’s commitment to modernising its compliance regime in Water for Victoria. To show Victoria’s high standards in water compliance, it will update its:

  • policies
  • systems
  • legislation.

These updates will help us meet the challenges of:

  • climate change
  • reduced water availability
  • increasing demands for water.

Key actions the government has taken include:

  • passing the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Act 2019
  • committing to the Murray Darling Basin Compliance Compact and implementing Victoria’s actions
  • introducing regulations for the use of water infringement offences
  • commissioning an independent review of the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (formerly DELWP, now DEECA) and water corporations with non-urban customer compliance and enforcement frameworks.

Independent review of compliance and enforcement

In May 2020, the Minister for Water appointed Mr Des Pearson, Victoria’s former Auditor-General to review the compliance and enforcement frameworks (PDF, 473.2 KB) of DELWP (now known as DEECA) and water corporations with non-urban customers. The review was to ensure alignment with the government’s:

The review considered policies, procedures and frameworks governing and managing compliance. It also considered enforcement, including monitoring and reporting for early identification of risks.

Findings of the review

The review found:

  • that rates of unauthorised take were not excessive
  • the key elements of a robust compliance and enforcement framework are in place.

The review also highlighted:

  • the benefits and opportunities for universal compliance approaches across water corporations
  • DEECA increasing monitoring and reporting
  • DEECA worked with Victorian water corporations to implement the recommendations across the state in mid-2021.

Page last updated: 28/09/23