The operating rules and constraints governing water entitlements, allocations, trades and transfers are provided on this page.
The wide range of hydrological characteristics and water infrastructure existing within the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) region has led to the development of varying administrative arrangements. In addition, interjurisdictional cooperation is required to manage water resources because they are shared by several jurisdictions. Interjurisdictional arrangements (the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, in particular) and state water legislation (including state water management plans) are in effect to plan and manage the MDB region’s water resources, and impose operating rules and constraints.
The Murray–Darling Basin Cap (the Cap), established in 1995, provided a new framework for water sharing in the MDB. The Cap aims to limit yearly diversions to the volume that would have been diverted at the 1993–94 development level in most valleys – plus allowances in some valleys (MDBA 2009). The Cap did not restrain groundwater diversions.
The Cap is being managed in accordance with the set of formal rules in Schedule E of the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth). The Cap is managed based on diversion limits set at the valley level, with the designated Cap valleys defined in Schedule E . The implementation of the Cap within a State or Territory is the responsibility of the concerned government. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority is responsible for monitoring, auditing and reporting on the Cap compliance.
Water access entitlements (WAEs), when added to other statutory (non-entitled) water rights (landowner basic rights, etc.) represent the total volume of water rights that have been granted for use. A percentage of entitlement may be available for abstraction during the year, subject to allocations announcements (see Water allocations) and other licence conditions. However, access to water conferred by statutory rights may not all be subjected to allocation announcements.
In each State and Territory, WAEs and water allocation planning exist in a framework of state legislation and water management plans. Terminology and mechanisms for water sharing rules, WAEs, their granting, associated attributes and conditions, and the announcement of allocations vary between the States and Territories. A comparison of jurisdictional WAEs and their attributes is made in Table R1.
WAEs may be issued within regulated (called ‘supplemented’ in Queensland) and unregulated ('unsupplemented' in Queensland) systems in the MDB region. In a regulated system, licensees can call upon water against their available allocation from storages. In an unregulated system, licensees cannot order any water against their entitlement, but may extract water under specified flow conditions or events. WAEs in unregulated systems can specify maximum volumes that can be abstracted, either in one year or a period of several years.
In some MDB jurisdictions, diversions of water are possible in extreme events such as floods. Usually these flow events cannot be captured or retained within public storages. The corresponding diversions are known as off-allocation diversions, supplementary flows, water harvesting, overland flows or spillage sales.
It is possible that the National Water Account 2010 (the 2010 Account) categorisation of entitlements differs to jurisdictional definitions. The 2010 Account entitlement categorisation is based on flows (regulated or unregulated), not systems. The 2010 Account categorisation of an unregulated flow means that this type of flow can occur in both the unregulated and regulated system – for example, in the event of a flood.
As part of their commitment to the National Water Initiative, States are separating the bundled components of the right to access a share of the water resource (WAEs, where they exist) from the land and from the other water rights such as the right to abstract water – or have it delivered – right to use water for a given purpose and right to build a work.
Across the MDB, licences have been issued for hydropower generators. They are not reported on in this account as they are non-consumptive and not expressed in terms of volume.
|Attributes||New South Wales||Victoria||South Australia||Queensland||Australian Capital Territory|
|WAE – name issued by state legislation||Water Access Licence 2000||Water share||Water access entitlement||Water access entitlement||Water access entitlement|
|Water Licence 1912||Bulk water entitlement||Water licence|
|Supplementary water access licence||Water licence||Interim water allocations|
|WAE – name issued by irrigation corporations from a state-conferred bulk entitlement||WAE issued by irrigation corporations/trusts||WAE issued by irrigation corporations/trusts|
|Term||Perpetual||Perpetual1||Perpetual||Water allocation – perpetual||Perpetual|
|Water licence has a term of between 5 and 10 years|
|Access priority||High security||High reliability||n/a||
Supplemented water: high priority, high class A and high class B
|General security||Low reliability||n/a||supplemented water: medium priority, risk class A and risk class B||n/a|
|Supplementary water||9 classes of licences have been established||n/a|
|Available water determination||Seasonal determination||Water allocation||Announced entitlement||n/a|
n/a = not applicable
A licence to take water, which specifies the location from which water can be taken, must accompany a WAE.
The water supply to Canberra is considered a regulated urban system, where water is diverted from storages.
Supplemented WAE priorities are defined as either high priority or medium priority, and represent water allocation security objectives.
South Australia implemented the unbundling of water rights for the River Murray from 1 July 2009.
The River Murray Water Allocation Plan (River Murray WAP) has been amended to support unbundled water rights. Water licences were unbundled into four unbundled instruments – WAEs, water allocation, water resource works approval and a water use approval.
The new WAE provides the holder with an ongoing right to a share of a specific class of water. Classes have been established to reflect the reliability and transferability of the water in the South Australian section of the River Murray. Table R2 details the new classes and the previous purpose stated on the previously bundled water licence.
|Class 1||Domestic and/or stock watering|
|Class 2||Country towns reticulated public water supply|
|Class 3a||Irrigation and holding|
|Class 3b||Irrigation Qualco–Sunlands Groundwater Control Trust Area|
|Class 5||Industrial and industrial dairy|
|Class 6||Metro Adelaide reticulated public water supply|
|Class 8||Environmental land management|
|Class 9||Wetland management|
The retail WAEs issued under bulk entitlements (see Surface water: water management plans) are recorded in the Victorian Register; their volumes are reported in this account, but not the portion set aside for losses.
Volumes of environmental WAEs, held by the Minister for the Environment during 2009–10, are also reported in this account. Since 1 July 2011, these entitlements are held by the Victorian Environmental Water Holder.
As at 30 June 2010, the total volume of surface water entitlement and basic rights in the MDB region have been evaluated to be 17,616,877 ML (see detail in Table R3). Further detail is given in the note Water rights, entitlements, allocations and trade, which highlights the data gaps and uncertainties affecting the values reported.
|State and MDB Plan region||High security1 (ML)||General and low security2 (ML)||Other regulated flows3 (ML)||Surface water basic right4 (ML)||Unregulated flows5 (ML)||Total6 (ML)|
|South Australia subtotal||302,659||573,523||876,182|
ACT = Australian Capital Territory; NSW = New South Wales
|State and MDB Plan region||Basic landholder rights1 (ML)||Licensed entitlements2 (ML)||Supplementary3 (ML)||Total (ML)|
|Lower Gwydir Alluvium||700||32,430||13,930||47,060|
|Lower Lachlan Alluvium||4,000||108,000||21,238||133,238|
|Upper Lachlan Alluvium||–||–||–||–|
|Lower Macquarie Alluvium||1,730||68,545||2,396||72,671|
|Lower Murray Alluvium||1,525||83,572||48,454||133,551|
|Lower Murrumbidgee Deep Groundwater source||1,000||270,786||41,196||312,982|
|Lower Murrumbidgee Shallow Groundwater source||3,000||5,210||–||8,210|
|Mid Murrumbidgee Alluvium||–||–||–||–|
|Lower Namoi Alluvium||3,304||86,001||20,874||110,179|
|Upper Namoi Alluvium||2,832||115,842||32,327||151,001|
|New South Wales subtotal||18,091||770,386||180,415||968,892|
|Campaspe Deep Lead Water Supply Protection Area||–||46,096||n/a||46,096|
|Katunga Water Supply Protection Area||–||59,450||n/a||59,450|
|Shepparton Irrigation Water Supply Protection Area||–||235,591||n/a||235,591|
|Mid Loddon Water Supply Protection Area||–||34,014||n/a||34,014|
|Balrootan (Nhill) Groundwater Management Area||–||1,522||n/a||1,522|
|Goroke Groundwater Management Area||–||–||n/a||–|
|Kaniva TCSA Groundwater Management Area||–||–||n/a||–|
|Murrayville Water Supply Protection Area||–||9,634||n/a||9,634|
|Nhill Groundwater Management Area||–||–||n/a||–|
|Telopea Downs Water Supply Protection Area||–||10,682||n/a||10,682|
– = no data available; n/a = not applicable
The water sharing rules and water accounting policies in effect vary throughout the MDB.
In the case of surface water, water allocation is the predominant mechanism to share regulated flows. It involves the initial determination of available water for consumptive use at the commencement of the water year (1 July across the MDB region). Responsible water authorities assess water in storage (the volume is carried over from the prior water year), and assess the outlook for future inflows and losses under a worst-case scenario. Announcements are then made by the relevant agency ranging from 0% to 100% availability, depending upon the class of entitlement and water source. During the year, allocations may increase as water availability increases. Subsequent allocation announcements are made to adjust the volume that can be taken.
On 1 July each year, subsequent to allocation announcements and carryover rules, the water account of entitlement holders is credited with their water allocation and the carried over volume from the previous year. This volume of water may be abstracted, traded or stored (for use later in the year or where allowed under the carryover rules to be carried over to the following year). At the end of the water year, different carryover rules in each state and management plan define the amount of allocation that can be carried over and accessed in the next water year. There are usually limits or rules that apply to the volume that can be carried over in any year.
Unregulated surface water flows, however, can only be accessed once predetermined flow conditions are met, and consistent with abstraction conditions specified in the works or use licences:
Continuous accounting is an alternative approach to water allocation, where users are allocated a share of system storage capacity and a share of inflows.
In continuous accounting, a WAE holder’s water account balance is updated daily and automatically for system losses, inflows, evaporation and storage capacity. Each WAE holder is assigned a share of the storage capacity.
This approach does not require water to be set aside for future losses. Instead, each WAE holder is responsible for their own evaporation losses from the storage. Inflows are credited to WAE in proportion to their share in the storage.
Under continuous accounting, water account balances do not need to be reset at the end of each water year and there is no requirement for an announced allocation (however, there are incremental allocation announcements).
Access to groundwater is either made under formal allocation announcement and/or is by default 100% of the entitlement unless restrictions apply.
Water users are able to trade water entitlements and allocations in the MDB region. Trading of entitlements and allocations occurs between and within valleys, and across state borders.
Interstate surface water trade is primarily available in the southern-connected MDB region among New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and between New South Wales and Queensland within the Border rivers region.
The framework for interstate trade in the Border rivers region is provided in the New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Intergovernmental Agreement 2008 and managed through protocols established under the agreement. The New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Act 1946 provides the legislative framework.
Figure R1 indicates the areas where trading occurs between the states.
Figure R1. Map of interstate trading areas within the MDB region
Inter-valley trading (IVT) rules are defined in State legislation, water resource plans and the MDBA agreement. Some interstate trading rules also cover inter-valley trading. Inter-valley water trading is generally available within the southern-connected MDB region rather than in the northern MDB region.
Within valley trading, rules are also defined in State legislation and water resource plans. Surface water trading within valleys is usually available within regulated systems. Groundwater trading within an aquifer is available in limited areas, usually only where a water resource plan has been developed.