Water quality standards

The Water Act enables the Northern Territory Government to set water quality standards, criteria and objectives about water and waste.[1]  Any type of activity that requires a permit or licence under the Water Act, such as construction permits to do works on a waterway, or licences to dispose of waste underground[2] is granted on the condition that the licence or permit holder complies with the standards that have been set for an area.[3]

People who hold licences or approvals must make sure that they do not do anything which adversely affects[4] the beneficial uses, water quality standards, criteria or objectives that have been set.[5]  When new standards come into force, licence holders have to make sure that they comply with new standards within 3 months.[6]

Discharge and disposal of waste to water

The discharge of waste to water or underground disposal of waste is unlawful without a licence from the Department of Land Resource Management.

The Water Act does not provide the public with rights to object or to make submissions when a person submits an application for a waste discharge licence or waste disposal licence.  In addition, the Water Act does not provide any third party rights to appeal a decision on the merits when a licence is granted.  For more information on your rights to challenge a decision to issue a licence, please read our Fact Sheet on Judicial review and merits review.

People (and companies) who hold approvals under the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act (for example, environment protection licences or environment protection approvals) are not required to separately apply for a waste discharge licence under the Water Act.[7]

Waste discharge licences

People who hold a waste discharge licence are permitted to pollute water in a way which is not in accordance with water quality standards[8]. A licence holder is lawfully allowed to emit waste to water in situations where the licence holder cannot meet the water quality standards.  Waste discharge licences may be granted for up to two years.[9]

When the Controller of Water Resources is deciding whether or not to grant a waste discharge licence he or she must take into account the following considerations (amongst others):[10]

  • the declared beneficial uses for the water (including the environment – to provide water to maintain the health of aquatic ecosystems);
  • any likely adverse effects of the licence on the supply of water to another person who is entitled to it;
  • the availability of water in the area; and
  • the water allocation plan for the area.

Waste disposal licences

Waste disposal licences are granted for up to 12 months.[11] It is an offence to breach any terms or conditions of a licence.[12]


People may only discharge trade wastes into the sewerage system with the approval of the sewerage company.[13]

Water pollution

For more information about unlawful water pollution and offences, please read our Fact Sheet on Water pollution.


[1] s73(1)(a) Water Act
[2] s63 Water Act
[3] s73(2) Water Act
[4] Note the Water Act states “prejudices”
[5] s73(2) Water Act
[6] s73(3) Water Act
[7] s74A Water Act
[8] s74(1) Water Act
[9] s74(3) and s74(4) Water Act
[10] s90(1) Water Act
[11] s63(3) Water Act
[12] s64 and s76 Water Act
[13] s82(2) Water Supply and Sewerage Services Act