Licences are issued to protect the rights of licence holders, ensure that water is shared among users, and to ensure that environmental requirements are protected.

For more information on "take and use licenses" visit the Victorian Water Register website

Geothermal Groundwater Licensing Guidelines

The Geothermal Groundwater Licensing Guidelines outline rural water corporations’ powers under the Water Act 1989 to approve section 51 take and use licences for ‘non-consumptive’ purposes and section 76 approvals to dispose water from geothermal uses and confirm that the rural Water Corporations may require reinjection conditions. To do this, the Guidelines provide:

  • criteria to indicate whether reinjection would be an appropriate condition for rural water corporations to require;
  • guidance on the application process for a geothermal reinjection scheme and an indicative risk assessment process for delegates; and
  • guidance that licensing of the resource may be undertaken on the basis of nett permitted extraction volume (i.e. amount extracted minus amount reinjected) if reinjection is required and it is clear that the purpose of this approach is to preserve the water resource and the Permissible Consumptive Volume (PCV – groundwater cap). Where an application for a licence is made under section 51 and a PCV applies, the rural water corporation must ensure that the “nett permitted extraction volume” is not exceeded so that the objective of setting a PCV is achieved

The Guidelines detail the application and risk-based assessment processes for rural water corporations to determine how much groundwater can be taken and how much water will need to be reinjected back into the source aquifer, where reinjection is proposed or required.

The Guidelines also provide a risk-based approach to “nett permitted extraction volume” licensing. The nett permitted extraction volume is the gross permitted extraction volume of water authorised to be taken and used under a section 51 licence minus the volume of water required to be reinjected back into the source aquifer and for which an approval under section 76 is required.

Where an application for a licence is made under section 51 and a PCV applies, the rural water corporation must ensure that the “nett permitted extraction volume” is not exceeded so that the objective of setting a PCV is achieved.

Further information and the Guidelines themselves are available on the Victorian Water Register site

The Guidelines should be read in conjunction with:

For further information please contact your rural water corporation or

Statutory management plans and local management plans are developed to manage risks to groundwater resources.

Management plans aim to ensure the resource is shared equally between users, that impacts on third parties are minimised and the environment and long-term sustainability of the resource is protected.

Statutory management plans are a requirement for Water Supply Protection Areas under the Water Act 1989. The plans are developed with the community, groundwater users and other stakeholders and define specific rules to meet the management objectives in the area.

Local management plans are prepared in accordance with the following guidelines approved by the Minister:

Local Management Plan Guidelines (PDF, 397.2 KB)
Local Management Plan Guidelines (DOCX, 838.7 KB)

Monitoring of groundwater levels provides information on the condition of the resource, and enables the resource manager to track groundwater level responses to rainfall and extractions.

The water levels in approximately 1800 observation bores across the state are regularly monitored. Some of these sites are now monitored with telemetry systems, which provides live monitoring data of groundwater levels.

For groundwater data visit the Water Measurement Information System website

The metering of licensed groundwater extraction supports responsible groundwater management and continually improves our understanding of the resource. Groundwater extraction volumes are published in the annual Victorian Water Accounts.

In 2012, Victoria developed a new framework for the management and reporting of groundwater resources. The framework comprises three levels for managing and reporting on groundwater:

  • Groundwater Management Basins;
  • Groundwater Catchments; and
  • Groundwater Management Units.

Groundwater Management Basins and Groundwater Catchments are used for planning and reporting on groundwater conditions. These areas represent regions of connected groundwater resources and are based on groundwater flow systems, as well as administration and surface water management boundaries.

The 20 Groundwater Catchments and the Groundwater Management Basins to which they are aligned are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Groundwater management basins and groundwater catchments

Caption: Figure 1 - Groundwater management basins and groundwater catchments

Groundwater Management Units (GMU) define areas where specific rules are used to manage the resource according to the needs of groundwater users and the environment. There are two types of Groundwater Management Units: Water Supply Protection Areas, and Groundwater Management Areas.

Water Supply Protection Areas

A Water Supply Protection Area is an area declared under the Water Act 1989 to protect the groundwater or surface water resources through the development of a statutory management plan.

Groundwater Management Areas

A Groundwater Management Area (GMA) is an area where groundwater has been intensively developed or has the potential to be. GMAs have boundaries defined for the purposes of setting a PCV for ongoing management.

For more information on specific Groundwater Management Units, see Water Corporations.

A PCV is a cap set by the Minister for Water and is the maximum volume of water that can be allocated in a groundwater management unit.

Declaring a limit on licences provides certainty as to the limits of groundwater able to be extracted, while also protecting water for the environment.

Where a PCV is reached, those who want to get access to groundwater, or to increase their current licenced volume, must trade a volume of water from another licence holder in the area.


A ‘cap’ is the limit on the amount of water that can be taken from a water source and/or area for consumptive purposes, such as irrigation and commercial use.  Caps are used so that water allocation and diversions do not:

  • reduce reliability of supply for other entitlement holders
  • impact on important environmental values.

Some of the ways caps are applied include:

  • permissible consumptive volumes (PCVs)
  • winterfill Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs)
  • Sustainable Diversion Limits under the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP SDLs)

Victorian winterfill SDLs are not the same as the MDBP SDLs. The term ‘SDL’ is the same, but the caps are both applied very differently.

Permissible consumptive volumes (PCVs)

A PCV is a cap set by the Minister for Water. It is the maximum volume of water that can be allocated for consumptive purposes in an area or from a water system over a specified time period.

The Minister can declare a PCV by Order published in the Government Gazette for:

  • surface water and groundwater,
  • surface water only
  • groundwater only.

PCVs are imposed to protect the resource and prevent it being depleted or causing adverse impacts such as:

  • loss of water supply
  • reduced base flows in rivers and streams
  • changes to water quality
  • saline intrusion.

A limit on entitlements provides certainty to water users about the amount of water they can extract, while also protecting water for the environment.

If the PCV is reached and a user wants access to water or to increase their current entitlement volume, they will need to trade a volume of water from another entitlement holder in the area.

The Minister can revoke or vary a PCV by Order published in the Government Gazette.

PCV Orders made by the Minister for Water

Winterfill Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs)

Winterfill SDLs limit the volume that may be licensed for extraction during the winter period (1 July to 31 October).  Winterfill SDLs have been set for 1611 catchments across Victoria.

Winterfill SDLs help water managers determine whether more surface water can be taken from a catchment and keep the rivers and streams healthy.  SDLs provide information to assess applications for new licences to take water from unregulated catchments – including new farm dams – and to assess transfers between catchments.

Winterfill SDLs are applied through the Ministerial Policies for Managing Take and Use Licences.  Under the policies, all year or summer licences can’t be issued.

Murray Darling Basin Plan Sustainable Diversion Limits (MDBP SDLs)

SDLs are a mechanism used in the Murray Darling Basin to limit consumptive water use. The SDLs are specified in the Basin Plan.

In northern Victoria (the southern Basin) this means an SDL is the upper limit on the amount of surface water and groundwater that can be taken for consumptive use from Basin resources.  SDLs will operate from 2019.

Page last updated: 02/09/22