Australian Environmental Legislation - Clean Waters Act 1970

As the occupier of an industrial or commercial premise, you are legally responsible for any pollution that occurs, irrespective of whether it was caused by one of your employees or a subcontractor working temporarily on your site. 

It is against the law to place any material in a position that would allow it to flow into local waterways and cause pollution. Leaving pollutants in such a spot is the same as actually placing the substance directly into the waterway. You could be fined!

Since mid 1995 both the EPA and local council officers have been able to issue $600 on-the-spot fines for minor incidents that cause water pollution. In more serious cases, legal proceedings can be brought against the business – fines upto massive clean-up involving millions of dollars. 

Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997  (POEO Act) 

Under the Australian POEO Act dictionary, ‘water pollution’ or ‘pollution of waters’ means:

  • the physical, chemical or biological condition of the waters is changed, or
  • likely to make, the waters unclean, noxious, poisonous or impure, detrimental to the health, safety, welfare or property of persons, undrinkable for farm animals, poisonous or harmful to aquatic life, animals, birds, fish in or around the waters or unsuitable for use in irrigation.
  • it falls, descends, is washed, is blown or percolates, or
  • it is likely to fall, descend, be washed, be blown or percolate, into any waters, onto the dry bed of any waters, or into any drain, channel or gutter used or designed to receive or pass rainwater, floodwater or any water that is not polluted, or likely to pollute those waters. 

What the Act requires under s 96(3A)

Section 96(3A) of the POEO Act provides that:

The appropriate regulatory authority, when determining the action to be specified in a [prevention] notice relating to an activity that causes, is likely to cause or has caused water pollution, must consider:

  • the environmental values of water affected by the activity, and
  • the practical measures that could be taken to restore or maintain those environmental values, and
  • if the appropriate regulatory authority is not the EPA—any guidelines issued by the EPA to the authority relating to the exercise of functions under this section.’

Pollution of waters

The definition of ‘water pollution’ in the POEO Act dictionary should be used to determine if an offence under s120 of the POEO Act has been committed.


  • ANZECC—Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council
  • ARAs—Appropriate Regulatory Authorities
  • AMCANZ—Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia
  • DEC—Department of Environment and Conservation NSW
  • EPA—NSW Environment Protection Authority, now part of the Department of Environment and Conservation NSW (DEC).
  • POEO Act—Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997
  • WQOs—Water Quality Objectives
  • WQOs website—water quality objectives website (
  • Considering Environmental Values of Water when Issuing Prevention Notices
  • Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 3