Skip links and keyboard navigation

Wetlands Protection State Planning Policy: Frequently asked questions

Why are wetlands important?

Queensland has the most diverse array of wetlands in Australia, providing many important ecosystem services. Wetlands:

  • conserve water by storing and slowly releasing floodwater and groundwater
  • provide a buffer against coastal erosion, storm surges and flooding
  • filter nutrients, sediment and pollutants from run-off, which would otherwise go into creeks and rivers
  • provide important nursery areas for fish and aquatic species
  • are essential flora and fauna habitats providing refuges for a wide range of wildlife, including migratory birds and many threatened species.

What are the environmental values of a wetland?

Environmental values for wetlands are defined in section 81A of the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 as the qualities of a wetland that support and maintain:

  • the health and biodiversity of the wetland’s ecosystems
  • the wetland’s natural state and biological integrity
  • the presence of distinct or unique features, plants or animals and their habitats, including threatened wildlife, near threatened wildlife and rare wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act 1992
  • the wetland’s natural hydrological cycle
  • the natural interaction of the wetland with other ecosystems, including other wetlands.

The State development assessment provision, Module 11: Wetland Protection and Wild Rivers (SDAP Module 11) aims to protect and where possible enhance these environmental values, ensuring wetland ecosystem services continue to be provided.

Why does the Queensland Government want to protect wetlands?

Between 1997 and 2003 in Queensland, over 7000 hectares of wetlands were lost per year, with palustrine (freshwater swamp) wetlands in Great Barrier Reef (GBR) catchments suffering some of the greatest losses at a rate of 2600 hectares per year. Agricultural and urban development has caused this loss, resulting in vegetation clearing and changes to wetland hydrology. Analysis of more recent data shows ongoing loss of wetlands throughout the Great Barrier Reef catchments from 2003 to 2005.

The Queensland Government is committed to the statutory protection of wetlands in the GBR catchments aimed at halting the further loss of wetlands and to improve water quality flowing from catchments of the GBR. SDAP Module 11 and its associated regulation are focused on addressing the impacts of earthworks on wetlands. Other regulation, including the Vegetation Management Regime protects wetlands and riverine vegetation, and farm management regulations covering the cane and grazing industries in several reef catchments to improve the quality of water flowing into the reef lagoon.

How does protecting wetlands protect the Great Barrier Reef?

The Queensland Government is working to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the damage caused by sediment and nutrient run-off from land-based activities. Wetlands in GBR catchments filter run-off containing pollutants, such as nutrients, pesticides and sediments, helping to improve the quality of water entering the reef lagoon.

Protecting the remaining wetlands in GBR catchments will contribute to the health of the reef by conserving their linked ecology, food webs, buffering and filtration role and is one component of the government’s program to improve water quality in GBR catchments.

How does SDAP Module 11 protect wetlands?

SDAP Module 11 regulates development in and near wetlands in a wetland protection area (WPA wetland) by providing direction for regional and local planning instruments and development assessment decisions to protect wetlands. The policy sets the requirement for protecting wetlands in wetland protection areas by ensuring land use and development decisions protect their environmental values.

Development proposals involving high impact earthworks either wholly or partly within a wetland protection area are assessed by local government and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP). The location of WPAs are shown on EHP's map of referable wetlands. This mapping can be accessed at an allotment-scale.

Where does SDAP Module 11 apply?

SDAP Module 11 applies to 40 Great Barrier Reef catchments from the Daintree River in the north to the Burnett River and Mary River catchments in the south, the extent of which is shown on the map of wetland protection area catchments (PDF, 1.0M). SDAP Module 11 applies to wetland protection areas in these GBR catchments, which are shown on the map of referable wetlands.

How have WPA wetlands been identified?

Wetlands in a wetland protection area (WPA wetlands) have been derived using a rigorous scientific mapping method developed by EHP called the Aquatic Biodiversity Assessment and Mapping Method.

A WPA consist of two parts: a WPA wetland, and the surrounding trigger area. The trigger areas include a local area of hydrologic influence surrounding the wetland. The trigger area is 100 metres (m) in urban areas and 500m outside urban areas.

Figure 1 Wetland protection area

Figure 1 Wetland protection area

Where do EHP's roles apply in wetland regulation?

The Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning (DSDIP) is an assessment manager or referral agency for a development application for material change of use, reconfiguring a lot or operational works involving high impact earthworks (as defined in the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009) in wetland protection areas. High impact earthworks include the construction of new drains, placing of fill or construction of levies in a wetland protection area that significantly alter the hydrology of a wetland.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) is a technical agency and may be requested to provide advice to DSDIP about these proposals. For more details about the assessment process, visit the DSDIP website.

What happened to EHP's referral agency advice role for wetland management areas?

Local governments have been advised that there is no longer a requirement to refer development applications to EHP for advice on impacts in wetland management areas, shown on the map of referrable wetlands. In August 2012, this requirement was removed by the Sustainable Planning Amendment Regulation (No. 5) 2012. In the near future the map of referrable wetlands will be amended to remove the wetland management areas.

What type of development is assessed by SDAP Module 11?

SDAP Module 11 regulates new development proposed in a wetland protection area (WPA) within GBR catchments involving high impact earthworks. Examples of high impact earthworks include draining and filling of wetlands and works such as diversions, which change the hydrology of wetlands, introduce pollutants, or increase the amount of sediment flowing downstream. High impact earthworks are defined under Schedule 26 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009.

Development for a material change of use, reconfiguration of a lot(s) (subdivision) or operational works involving high impact earthworks in, or partly within a WPA are assessable under the Regulations. The associated assessable development triggers can be found in Schedule 3, part 1 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009.

How do high impact earthworks damage wetlands?

The main threat to wetlands is lack of water. High impact earthworks affect the hydrology of a wetland, that is, how the water flows in and out. Any draining or work that reduces the amount of water in a wetland threatens the functioning of that wetland.

High impact earthworks can damage wetlands and the habitats around them by:

  • changing the hydrological regime by altering water levels and environmental flows
  • removing vegetation and fauna habitat, and reducing ecological integrity
  • facilitating  the introduction of pest animals and plants
  • introducing pollutants
  • accelerating soil erosion and sediment run-off.

When is an environmental offset required?

Where adverse effects from development within a wetland protection area in an urban area cannot be avoided, those effects are minimised and offset.

Offsets are also required in circumstances where development does not need to fully achieve the policy outcome including: providing for an overriding need in the public interest, for a development commitment, or for certain types of community infrastructure.

However there are limited circumstances where a development commitment arising from and necessary to give effect to a development approval is not required to provide an environmental offset for residual adverse impacts on high ecological significance wetlands.

Environmental offsets are to be provided in accordance with the Queensland Biodiversity Offsets Policy. Refer to Biodiversity offsets for more information.

Who is affected by the new Regulations?

Landholders, urban developers or primary producers who want to carry out high impact earthworks that might affect a WPA wetland have to make an application through the Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS). See the definition of high impact earthworks in Schedule 26 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 (PDF).

What is the application fee?

The fee schedule for development applications involving operational work, reconfiguring a lot or a material change of use of premises in a Great Barrier Reef wetland protection area is set out in Schedule 10, part 2, item 5 of the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (PDF).

How can I find out if a wetland is protected?

You can find out if the wetland policy covers your property by requesting a map from the map of referable wetlands. The map of referable wetlands identifies WPAs within the Great Barrier Reef catchments regulated under the SDAP Module 11.

You will need to know the property description (lot on plan) details of your property to find out if a wetland on your property is a referable wetland.

Where can I find out more about wetlands?

The WetlandInfo website contains a wealth of information about wetlands. You can find out what a wetland is, the value of wetlands, threats to wetlands, interactive mapping tools, and much more.

Farming questions

Does the SPP restrict my current cropping practices?

No. Current cropping practices are regarded in the SDAP Module 11 as routine farm activities, which are exempt from the policy. The policy may apply to any expanding cropping practices.

Does it restrict fencing?

No. The maintenance of existing fencing is exempt, as is the construction of new fencing provided the excavated land is to be restored, as far as practicable, to its original contours after the fencing is built.

Can I establish and maintain firebreaks?

Establishing and maintaining firebreaks—to protect infrastructure and/or establishing fire management lines—is generally already exempt where it meets the requirements of the Vegetation Management Act 1999. The SDAP Module 11 will not affect these exemptions.

What if I want to do laser levelling?

If the proposed laser levelling is to maintain existing contours of the land and no new drains are constructed, then this type of activity is exempt from assessment. If new laser levelling works are proposed and this will result in the removal of more than 100 cubic metres (m3) of material within 200m of the wetland protection area (WPA) wetland or more than 1000m3 within 200m to 500m of the WPA wetland, then an application for a development permit will be required.

What happens if I want to drain my land?

If you want to construct a new drain and it requires the removal of more than 100 cubic metres (m3)of material within 200m of a WPA wetland, or more than 1000m3 of material between 200m and 500m from a WPA wetland, then an application for a development permit will be required. The application will need to demonstrate that the water flow rate of the wetland will be of the same rate and intensity as it was prior to development of the drain as part of the development assessment process under SDAP Module 11. Drainage onto neighbouring properties or into waterways so that the water bypasses the wetland is not acceptable. However, maintenance and de-silting of existing drains is exempt under the policy.

What about dams?

For the purposes of building a dam, you can excavate up to 100 cubic metres (m3) of material within 200m of a WPA wetland, or up to 1000m3 between 200m and 500m from the WPA wetland, without the need for approval. A dam requiring the excavation of material above these thresholds in a wetland protection area will require an application for a development permit to be made. The application will need to demonstrate that the water flow rate of the wetland will be of the same rate and intensity as it was prior to development of the dam, as part of the development assessment process under WPA wetland. Overflow onto neighbouring properties or into waterways so that the water bypasses the wetland is not acceptable. The policy would not apply to dams being built more than 500m from the edge of a WPA wetland.

Can I put in overland flow storage/sediment erosion ponds?

This depends on the intended location and size of the storage or pond. The development of overland flow storage/sediment erosion ponds are identified as industry best practice methods for helping to manage farm run-off and protect the environment, in addition to providing for water storage. However, they should not be developed within a wetland or where they would have an adverse impact on the hydrology of the wetland (refer to the question regarding building new dams).

What about filling in land?

You can fill up to 100 cubic metres (m3) of material within 200m of a WPA wetland, or up to 1000m3 between 200m and 500m from the WPA wetland. Any filling greater than these amounts will require a development permit. Filling further than 500m from a WPA wetland and any filling for a domestic housing activity are both exempt (i.e. filling to build a single dwelling on a lot).

I want to clear vegetation classified as ‘Category X’ on a property map of assessable vegetation. Can I still clear if this vegetation is in a WPA?

Clearing of native vegetation is exempt in the policy; however, the wetland may still be protected under the Vegetation Management Act 1999. Please check with your local EHP vegetation officer to see if you can clear vegetation on your property or request a property map of assessable vegetation (PMAV).

What if I want to challenge the mapping?

An applicant can request a map amendment to a wetland protection area if it is associated with a development application. The map amendment request must be supported by evidence that includes more accurate information indicating the extent, or hydrological type of the wetland; or demonstrating that the wetland does not have high environmental values for wetlands declared under the section 81A of the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 (PDF).

When preparing to lodge an application that may include a map amendment request, the applicant should contact their EHP regional office to discuss their development proposal and for further guidance on the information requirements for an amendment request.

For further information on the wetland mapping amendment process during a development application, please contact your local EHP office or phone 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

How do I apply for a development permit?

For development permit enquiries please contact the relevant EHP office or local government and they will be able to provide you with the necessary information and advice about high impact earthworks are to be considered under the IDAS). Applicants are encouraged to contact EHP offices to arrange a pre-lodgement meeting to discuss their development proposal providing an opportunity for applicants to clarify requirements of SPP 4/11.

Last updated
4 July 2013