Cape York Peninsula Heritage Area water licences

Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders have access to a special reserve of freshwater in the Cape York area. Eligible persons can claim their share of this water by requesting a water licence, at no cost.

If you hold a Cape York Peninsula Heritage Area (CYPHA) water licence you can:

  • hold the water licence for future use
  • hold the water licence but not use the water, leaving the water in the rivers and creeks
  • activate the licence and use water for a project, for example irrigation
  • assign all or part of the licence to another person or entity in return for a financial or other benefit.

You can choose to use all, part or none of the water provided in your CYPHA water licence.

Who can hold a CYPHA water licence?

A CYPHA water licence can be held by an eligible person. An 'eligible person' is defined as:

  • an entity that holds Aboriginal freehold land, such as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Corporation or land trust


  • a native title holder such as a registered native title body corporate (RNTBC).

Cost of CYPHA water licence

You don't pay anything for a CYPHA water licence and there are no ongoing fees.

Requesting a water licence

To request your share of the water, simply write to us:

Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water
28 Peters Street
Mareeba QLD 4880

We will review this request and we may make you an offer.

You can make a request at any time. You don’t have to request your share now.

Your share of the water is based on your area of land—it cannot be allocated to anyone else and will stay in the CYPHA reserve until you request it.

How much water can you get?

A water licence from the CYPHA reserve recognises a share of water in one of the catchments covered by the Cape York water plan (PDF, 542KB).

The volume of the CYPHA reserve in each catchment is shown in Table 1 below.

Your share of water is based on the area of your land compared to the total land area in the catchment. For example, if your interest in land represents 20% of the catchment area, then your share will be 20% of the total volume of CYPHA reserve in that catchment.

If there is no CYPHA reserve in a catchment, there may be other options for accessing water. Please call (07) 4017 0140 or email to discuss these.

Table 1. CYPHA reserve by catchment


Volume of CYPHA reserve (megalitres)













Jacky Jacky




















*Please call (07) 4017 0140 or email to discuss options for accessing water in this catchment.

Using a CYPHA water licence for your project

If you don't have a project in mind when you request your licence that's not a problem. You can still have your licence and activate it in the future by contacting us.

To activate your licence for a project, you'll need to apply to us to amend the licence.

We'll check your project for any impacts. We might include conditions on your licence to protect the environment and make sure other water users get their share.

Please contact us so we can guide you through this process. Call (07) 4017 0140 or email

Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders don't need approval or a CYPHA water licence to use water for traditional or cultural purposes, such as:

  • hunting, fishing, gathering or camping
  • performing rites or other ceremonies
  • visiting sites of significance.

Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders can also take water for a house or for watering stock without a water licence—unless it is groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin.

Assigning your water licence to someone else

One of the benefits of the CYPHA water licence is that you can assign all or part of the water to anyone in the same catchment if you don’t have a use for it.

An assignment is like a lease. It lets someone else use the water for a set period of time, in return for a financial benefit (like rent for a lease) or other consideration.

Note: An assignment must have an end date. It cannot be a permanent arrangement.

Assignment procedure

Contact us to make sure the assignment is allowed under the rules and to obtain an application form. We can also discuss any requirements or additional information you’ll need to provide with your application.

We suggest that you also get legal advice and draw up a contract between you and the other party.

When we receive your request, we will assess the proposed water use for impacts on the environment and other water users.

Finding an assignee for your water licence

If you're interested in assigning your water, you could put an ad in the local paper or talk to a water broker, real estate agent or your solicitor.

Contact us

For more information about CYPHA water licences contact:

Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water
Phone: (07) 4017 0140

28 Peters Street
Mareeba QLD 4880

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