See summary of the Water Compliance Report 2019-20.

  • Victoria has a zero-tolerance approach to water theft, ensuring a level playing field for all water users.
  • Victoria is committed to maintaining its strong compliance record to maintain integrity of the entitlements market and protect the environment.
  • Water corporations have greater capacity for more compliance and enforcement activities than in past years due to continued investments in metering and system monitoring technology, coupled with systems to better target risk.
  • As at 30 June 2020, water corporations have more than 68,000 meters installed, about 31,000 of which have telemetry that provide real-time intelligence on compliance. Water corporations with rural customers also conducted a total of 96,481 manual meter reads and performed 21,325 additional inspections to ensure that meters are maintained and functioning efficiently.
  • 2,414 potential breaches were reported between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020, 155 fewer than in the previous year. The slight decrease in the number of potential breaches detected can be attributed to better use of data and systems to improve efficiency and target compliance risks, and greater proactive communication with water users about compliance.
  • 2,658 enforcement actions were taken between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020, including 406 statutory notices, 15 restrictions of water supply of high-risk offences and 21 cases recommended for prosecution.
  • In July 2020, Victoria introduced new regulations that enable water corporations to issue penalty infringement notices for less serious offences of unauthorised take and breaches of take and use and works licences.

Non-urban water compliance and enforcement in Victoria

Water corporations that manage water resources in non-urban areas play a key role in securing the rights of all water users as well as safeguarding the State’s water resources. In this report ‘water corporations’ refers to Goulburn-Murray Water, Lower Murray Water, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, Coliban Water, Melbourne Water and Southern Rural Water.

Most water users are responsible and abide by the conditions of their licences. However, each year, a small number of users break the law. Common offences of the Water Act 1989 (Victorian Water Act) in rural areas are:

  • Unauthorised works (section 75)
  • Wrongful take of water (section 289)
  • Structure over works (section 148)
  • Interference with a water corporation’s property (section 288)
  • Obstructing water corporation officers (section 292)
  • Failure to comply with water-use licence conditions (section 64AF)
  • Failure to comply with notice of contravention (section 151)

Zero tolerance for unauthorised take

The Victorian Government is strengthening the state’s zero-tolerance approach to water theft to ensure a level playing field for all water users.

In October 2019, the Water Act 1989 was amended in October 2019 to strengthen penalty provisions that make it easier to prosecute offences, increase the maximum fine for intentional water theft and related offences if they cause substantial harm to $990,000 for companies and $198,000 for individuals, and allow for the suspension or cancellation of licences for taking water and works.

In May 2020, the Minister for Water appointed Mr Des Pearson, Victoria’s former Auditor-General, to undertake a comprehensive independent review, ensuring Victorian irrigators and water users have a robust compliance and enforcement system, with checks and balances in place that helps maintain – and continue to build – confidence in the market. The review found that most irrigators and water users were already doing the right thing, with low levels of non-compliance. There are several areas where compliance and enforcement approaches could be further strengthened to provide consistent and quicker resolutions.

This review was published in September 2020. DELWP and water corporations are working together to ensure that the recommendations are fully implemented effectively and uniformly across the state by mid-2021.

In July 2020, the Victorian Government also introduced regulations that enable water corporations to issue water infringement notices on smaller volumes of unauthorised take as well as breaches of works and take and use licences.

Statistics for compliance activities and enforcement actions between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020

Water corporations report annually on their compliance and enforcement activities in accordance with clause 7.3A of their Statement of Obligations. The following state-wide statistics have been compiled for the 2019-2020 reporting period.

Compliance activities

In 2019-20, there was a greater level of compliance activity as water corporations continued to invest in installing new meters, telemetry on meters and database management systems that enable better monitoring of water take, greater scrutiny of potential breaches, and more comprehensive compliance reporting.

As at 30 June 2020, there were more than 68,000 meters installed across Victoria. Approximately 31,500 of these meters also have telemetry which allow water corporations to quickly detect breaches of the Water Act. Between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, water corporations with rural customers conducted a total of 96,481 manual meter reads. 21,325 additional inspections of meters were also performed to ensure that meters are maintained and functioning efficiently.

Water corporations with rural customers reported that they detected 2,414 potential breaches between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, 155 fewer than in the previous year^. The slight decrease in the number of potential breaches detected can be attributed to better use of data and systems to improve efficiency and target compliance risks, and greater proactive communication with water users about compliance. Water corporations also commenced 2,433 investigations (including potential breaches carried forward from the previous year) and finalised 2,155 investigations. Of potential breaches, 88.5 per cent were investigated and finalised within the year. Unauthorised take continues to be the dominant category of potential breaches, at 98.5 per cent of the total take.

^ Adjustments were made to the number of potential breaches detected and investigations commenced in the 2018-19 report to exclude non-metered domestic and stock accounts which were deemed negative as a result of low allocations.

Figure 1. Number of potential breaches detected and investigations in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 water years

Approximately 95 per cent of all potential breaches detected were in the northern region of Victoria, which is commensurate with the higher number of water users and licence holders in the region and the high level of activity in the water market every year.

Approximately 95 per cent of all potential breaches detected were in the northern region of Victoria, which is commensurate with the higher number of water users and licence holders in the region and the high level of activity in the water market every year.

Figure 2. Number of potential breaches detected and investigations in Northern Victoria and Southern Victoria from 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020

Number of potential breaches detected and investigations in Northern Victoria and Southern Victoria from 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020

Enforcement actions

Water corporations have a range of enforcement options to pursue. Advisory letters and verbal warnings are usually the first enforcement action taken in response to a breach, followed by a formal warning letter, notice of contravention, reduce, restrict or discontinue water supply, or prosecution. From 1 July 2020, water corporations will also be able to issue water infringement notices for less serious offences. Water corporations may take more than one enforcement action if the water user does not rectify the breach after one enforcement action.

Between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, water corporations took 2,658 enforcement actions against breaches of the Water Act (Table 1). This is 30 per cent greater than the 2,043 enforcement actions taken in the previous year and 70 per cent greater than the 1,562 enforcement actions taken between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018. The increase in the number of enforcement actions taken is a reflection of Victoria’s strong commitment to zero-tolerance and on water corporations’ timely and resolute efforts to achieve zero-tolerance on water theft.

In 2019/20, 83 per cent of the enforcement actions reported by water corporations were verbal warnings, advisory letters or formal warning letters. There were more advisory letters and fewer warning letters issued in 2019/20 compared to 2018/19 due to a change in terminology of letters used in some water corporations.

Similar to the number of potential breaches detected, approximately 96 per cent of all enforcement actions taken were in the northern region of Victoria where there are more water users and licence holders.

Figure 3. Summary of enforcement actions taken between 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020

Summary of enforcement actions taken between 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020

Figure 4. Number of enforcement actions taken in Northern Victoria and Southern Victoria from 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020

Number of enforcement actions taken in Northern Victoria and Southern Victoria from 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020

The following section provides a breakdown of enforcement actions and the offences that were cited against those actions.

Water corporations in Victoria own all meters and may reduce, restrict or discontinue water supply to a water user under section 141 of the Water Act 1989 to prevent continuing water theft.

Water corporations in Victoria own all meters and may reduce, restrict or discontinue water supply to a water user under section 141 of the Water Act 1989 to prevent continuing water theft.

Sections of the Act Basin Date commenced Date finalised Outcome
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 16/05/2019 30/09/2019
1. Two year good behaviour bond
2. Compensation of $9,041.80
3. Costs $1,038.90
4. No conviction
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 21/06/2019 19/11/2019 1. One year good behaviour bond
2. Compensation of $86,147.50
3. Costs of $3,238.60
4. No conviction
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) * Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 09/10/2019 19/12/2019 Withdrawn
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) * Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 12/11/2019 20/12/2019 Withdrawn

* denotes related offence

Sections of the Act Basin Date commenced
Failure to comply with a notice of contravention and breach of houseboat regulations (section 151 and Reg 4 Houseboat Regulations) Lake Eildon 31/07/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Goulburn System Diversions 31/07/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) ** Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 11/10/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 63 and 289) Lake Meran System Diversions 11/10/2019
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) Loddon System Diversions 16/10/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Goulburn System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Goulburn System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E) Murray Darling Basin - Surface Water 20/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E) Murray Darling Basin - Surface Water 15/01/2020
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) Goulburn System Rochester Irrigation Area 16/03/2020
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) ** Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 18/03/2020
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 15/04/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 21/04/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water and unauthorised works (section 33E, 75, 75A and 289) # Goulburn System Diversions 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water and unauthorised works (section 33E, 75, 75A and 289) # Goulburn System Diversions 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 63 and 289) Lake Meran System Diversions 20/05/2020

** denotes same water user, multiple offences
# denotes same offence. As the land is owned by two individuals, individual charges were filed.

Priorities for 2020-21

DELWP, together with water corporations, is committed to a zero-tolerance approach to water theft so that there is a level playing field for all water users. We are committed to ensuring that Victoria has a strong and robust compliance and enforcement system, with checks and balances in place that helps maintain – and continue to build – confidence in the market. Our priorities for the year are to implement the recommendations from the Independent Compliance Review, namely to:

  • Implement a consistent zero-tolerance approach to addressing unauthorised take
  • Embed a more rigorous proactive monitoring approach to monitor non-compliance
  • Strengthen our governance and reporting arrangements on unauthorised take
  • Step up communications to effectively engage with the public about water compliance in Victoria

Prosecutions

There were 25 prosecutions in between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 including two cases that were carried over from the previous year.

In 2019/20, COVID-19 and lock downs in metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria have trandsformed the way Victorian Courts operate and ability to to see as many cases as previous years. As a result, only 4 prosecutions were finalised in this period and 21 will be carried forward to next year.

Figure 5. Summary of prosecutions between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020

Number of prosecutions carried forward from previous year 2
Number of prosecutions commenced between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 23
Number of prosecutions finalised between 1 July to 30 June 2020 4
Number of prosecutions that have commenced  and will be carried forward to next year 21

The following provides more details about the prosecutions that were finalised between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 and prosecutions that will be carried forward to the next year.

Sections of the ActBasin Date commenced Date finalisedOutcome
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 16/05/2019 30/09/2019
1. Two year good behaviour bond
2. Compensation of $9,041.80
3. Costs $1,038.90
4. No conviction
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 21/06/2019 19/11/2019 1. One year good behaviour bond
2. Compensation of $86,147.50
3. Costs of $3,238.60
4. No conviction
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) * Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 09/10/2019 19/12/2019 Withdrawn
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) * Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 12/11/2019 20/12/2019 Withdrawn

* denotes related offence

Sections of the ActBasin Date commenced
Failure to comply with a notice of contravention and breach of houseboat regulations (section 151 and Reg 4 Houseboat Regulations) Lake Eildon 31/07/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Goulburn System Diversions 31/07/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) ** Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 11/10/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 63 and 289) Lake Meran System Diversions 11/10/2019
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) Loddon System Diversions 16/10/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Goulburn System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E and 289) Goulburn System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 12/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E) Murray Darling Basin - Surface Water 20/11/2019
Unauthorised take of water (section 33E) Murray Darling Basin - Surface Water 15/01/2020
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) Goulburn System Rochester Irrigation Area 16/03/2020
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) ** Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 18/03/2020
Unauthorised take of water and interference with Authority’s property (sections 288 and 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 15/04/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Goulburn System Shepparton Irrigation Area 21/04/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 289) Murray System Torrumbarry Irrigation Area 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water and unauthorised works (section 33E, 75, 75A and 289) # Goulburn System Diversions 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water and unauthorised works (section 33E, 75, 75A and 289) # Goulburn System Diversions 20/05/2020
Unauthorised take of water (section 63 and 289) Lake Meran System Diversions 20/05/2020

** denotes same water user, multiple offences
# denotes same offence. As the land is owned by two individuals, individual charges were filed.

Priorities for 2020-21

DELWP, together with water corporations, is committed to a zero-tolerance approach to water theft so that there is a level playing field for all water users. We are committed to ensuring that Victoria has a strong and robust compliance and enforcement system, with checks and balances in place that helps maintain – and continue to build – confidence in the market. Our priorities for the year are to implement the recommendations from the Independent Compliance Review, namely to:

  • Implement a consistent zero-tolerance approach to addressing unauthorised take
  • Embed a more rigorous proactive monitoring approach to monitor non-compliance
  • Strengthen our governance and reporting arrangements on unauthorised take
  • Step up communications to effectively engage with the public about water compliance in Victoria

Page last updated: 22/10/20