Adelaide
Water rights

Operating rules and constraints

Water allocation plans set the objectives and principles for allocating and transferring water rights and managing activities that affect prescribed water resources. Water-affecting activity permits are used to manage activities that can potentially have adverse impacts on the condition of water resources more generally, such as the construction of dams and bores. 

Water entitlements

In the Adelaide region the abstraction and use of water is authorised by water rights under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia), (the Act) and by water licences issued to users (water access entitlements).

Water rights under the Act are administered by the South Australian Department for Water by delegation from the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation (Table R1). Native title holders, as determined under the Native Title Act 1983 (Cwlth), can take water for cooking, washing and drinking purposes.


Table R1. Water rights under the Act relevant to the Adelaide region
Water right Relevant water resources Notes
Water licence Prescribed water resources Refer to relevant water allocation plans.
Authorisations under section 128 of the Act  Prescribed water resources Authorisations gazetted in the South Australian Government Gazette.

Used for the following purposes:
  • roof runoff up to 500 KL
  • firefighting
  • road-making
  • control of pests, plants and animals on non-irrigated land
  • stormwater capture and reuse projects
  • other authorisations.
Authorisations under section 132 of the Act Prescribed water resources

Water resources not declared as prescribed
Notices gazetted in the South Australian Government Gazette.

An authorisation to prohibit or restrict the abstraction of water to facilitate sustainable management of the water resources.
Authorisations under section 164N of the Act Prescribed water resources A water access entitlement and other authorisations are granted to existing users of water (within the establishment period) to abstract water from a prescribed resource. This may be subject to a restriction or prohibition detailed in notices gazetted for authorisations under section 132.
Stock and domestic purpose: authorisations under section 124(4) of the Act Prescribed water resources

Water resources not declared as prescribed
In the Adelaide region in some circumstances the operation of section 124(4) of the Act is excluded. A licence is required to abstract water for stock and domestic purposes in the Northern Adelaide Plains Prescribed Wells Area and under certain circumstances in the Western Mount Lofty Ranges Prescribed Water Resources Area.
Basic right: authorisations under section 124(6) of the Act
Prescribed water resources

Water resources not declared as prescribed
Allows the abstraction of water for the purposes of drinking or cooking.


Water licences

Water licences relevant to the Adelaide region are summarised in Table R2. All water licences in the region have entitlements expressed as a volume per year except for the Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area where a small number of licences have entitlements expressed as an area of crop to be irrigated per year. These latter water licences are in the final stages of conversion to volumetric entitlements. 

Table R2. Summary of water licences in the Adelaide region
Prescribed area Prescribed water resources Purpose/ security class
Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area Groundwater^
Surface water*
Irrigation
Industrial
Northern Adelaide Plains Prescribed Wells Area Groundwater^ Irrigation
Industrial
Stock and domestic
McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area Groundwater^ No purpose stated
Little Para Prescribed Watercourse Surface water – watercourse only** Irrigation
Central Adelaide Prescribed Wells Area Groundwater^ Water licences for existing user to be determined. New users to be considered when water allocation plan is adopted#
Western Mount Lofty Ranges Prescribed Water Resources Area
(including watercourses across the plains i.e. River Torrens, Onkaparinga River and Gawler River prescribed watercourses)
Groundwater^
Surface water*
Water licences for existing users to be finalised. New users to be considered when water allocation plan is adopted#
South Australian River Murray Prescribed Watercourse

Water is used in the Adelaide region, but allocated from the River Murray consumptive pool under a water access entitlement
Surface water – watercourse only**

Classes of River Murray water access entitlements have been established to reflect how much water is assigned in drought circumstances.

In the Adelaide region:

  • the irrigation scheme holds a Class3a WAE to shares in the River Murray consumptive pool
  • the urban water system holds a Class 6 WAE to shares in the River Murray consumptive pool.

For more information on classes of River Murray water access entitlements refer to the Water for Good website.


WAE = water access entitlement

# Refer to the Major water initiatives section of the Contextual information

By definition of the resource under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia);
^ 'underground water' – all water occurring naturally underground
* 'surface water' – includes catchment water resources (farm dams, run-off and storm water) and watercourses (river channel)
** 'watercourse' – includes only the river channel

Water allocations

Allocation announcements

Bundled water licences

In the Adelaide region, water licences for prescribed resources are bundled. This term is used to describe the fact that the water entitlement, allocation and approval to abstract water are bundled into a single licence. Bundled water licences within the Adelaide region are not subject to formal annual allocation announcements. Water allocation announcements are deemed to be 100% of the volume on the water licence and are available to the licence holder at 1 July each year. Currently there are no provisions within the relevant water allocation plans to vary the allocation available on a bundled water licence.

The majority of the prescribed resources in the Adelaide region have volumetric allocations. The Barossa Prescribed Water Resource Area is the only prescribed resource that still has some water allocations based on the areal extent to be irrigated. These allocations record a maximum irrigation area broken down by crop type and suggest a volume based on a reasonable crop requirement. They are in the process of being converted to volumetric allocations.

Unbundled water licences

In contrast to water licences for prescribed resources in the Adelaide region, water licences for the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse are unbundled and managed as four separate instruments: a water access entitlement, water allocation, water resource works approval and site-use approval.  

Allocation announcements for water licensed to be taken from the River Murray and transported into the Adelaide region may occur at multiple times during the water year and are published online in the South Australian Government Gazette.

Unbundling of water rights is a key initiative of South Australia's water reform agenda – for more information refer to the Major water initiatives section of the Contextual information. The legislative history of all prescribed resources in South Australia can be accessed at the Water for Good website, including gazette notices. 

Carryover credits

Any unused water allocations at 30 June each year are forfeited, but the volume forfeited forms credits used to calculate partial carryover into the next year – carryover credits. Carryover credits can accrue over a number of years and accumulate from unused allocations and other sustainable practices. Only the McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area and the Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area allow carryover credits in their water allocation plans. The conditions for accruing carryover credits in the Adelaide region are presented in Table R3.

Table R3. Conditions for accruing carryover credits within the Adelaide region
Prescribed area Prescribed water resource Carryover limit as a percentage of annual allocation
Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area (PWRA)
Surface water and watercourse water

Groundwater
Up to 30%

Up to 10%
Northern Adelaide Plains Prescribed Wells Area (PWA)
Groundwater Carryover not permitted
McLaren Vale PWA Groundwater Up to 30%
Little Para Prescribed Watercourse (PWC)
Watercourse Yet to be determined
Central Adelaide PWA
Groundwater Yet to be determined
Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA Surface water, watercourse water and groundwater Yet to be determined
River Murray PWC
Watercourse water
Class 6: carryover not permitted*
Class 3a: private carryover not permitted**

* The Water Allocation Plan for the River Murray PWC details that carryover of allocations on a Class 6 entitlement is not permitted.
**During the recent prolonged drought special carryover provisions were introduced for irrigators (applicable to Class 3a entitlements). However, this special carryover provision ceased on the 30 June 2011. The South Australian Government will adopt a River Murray Carryover Policy from the 2012–13 year.

Recharged water credits

Recharged water refers to water that is actively drained or discharged to groundwater. Following a period of time – a recharge period – a portion of this recharged water is allocated for use, called a recharge credit. This arrangement is called managed aquifer recharge (MAR)

The conditions associated with allocating and carrying over recharge credits are described in the relevant water allocation plan and are summarised for each prescribed area in Table R4.


Table R4. Conditions for recharge credits in prescribed areas within the Adelaide region
Prescribed area Period after which recharge credit expires Source of water used to recharge the groundwater resource Recharge credit as a percentage of volume of groundwater recharged
Barossa PWRA 2 years after recharge year Local surface water and watercourse

Imported water
Up to 80%

Up to 100%
Northern Adelaide Plains PWA
Generally up to 5 years Not specified Generally up to 80%
McLaren Vale PWA
Within 3 years of recharge year Local surface water and watercourse

Imported or effluent water
Up to 75%

Up to 100%
Central Adelaide PWA
Yet to be determined
Yet to be determined
Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA Yet to be determined
Yet to be determined

Trades and water rights transfers

Water market rules: interstate trading

In the Adelaide region, water trading can occur within prescribed resources according to the rules set out in the relevant water allocation plan. There are no provisions for interstate trade of water rights other than transfers in respect to the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse (PWC). Some River Murray PWC licence holders can participate in interstate water trading depending on the class of their licence (Table R5). They can transport water into the Adelaide region, but the water rights remain as River Murray PWC water rights. The water is transported through pipelines by a commercial arrangement with SA Water. River Murray PWC licence holders who use water within the Adelaide region are governed by the regulations of the Water Allocation Plan for the River Murray PWC


Table R5. Trade restrictions on River Murray licences
Class Former purpose Tradeable?
1 Domestic and stock watering Yes
2 Country towns Yes
3a Irrigation Yes
3b Irrigation – Qualco Sunland Groundwater Control Trust area Yes
4 Recreation Yes
5 Industrial and dairy Yes
6 Metropolitan Adelaide No
7 Environment Yes
8 Environmental land management Yes
9 Wetland management Yes

(Water for Good website)

Water market rules: inter-valley and within-valley trading

The rules specified in the respective water allocation plans only allow trade of water rights within the boundary of each prescribed area. The prescribed areas that permit water trading within the Adelaide region are:

  • Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area
  • Northern Adelaide Plains Prescribed Wells Area
  • McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area
  • Little Para Prescribed Watercourse.

Within each prescribed area all trades are assessed by the South Australian Department for Water based on the principles and objectives stated in the relevant water allocation plan.

Restrictions on trade

The Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia) controls trade of water licences, entitlements and allocations in the following ways:

  • Water property rights only exist in prescribed areas and therefore trade is not possible outside of the prescribed water resources.
  • Trade of water licences between prescribed areas within the Adelaide region is not allowed by the relevant water allocation plans. Trade of water licences can occur such that water from one prescribed area can be delivered to a user within the physical boundary of another prescribed resource. However, the volume of water traded will not affect the volume of the destination prescribed resource.
  • Any proposed trade must be approved by the relevant South Australian Minister. This power is delegated to officers of the South Australian Department for Water.

The trade restrictions specific to prescribed areas in the Adelaide region are summarised in Table R6.

Table R6. Summary of restrictions on water trade within the Adelaide region during the 2010–11 year
Prescribed area Duration of restrictions on trade (indicative) Trade subjected to Minister's approval? Limit to the location of points of taking Limits to transfers to stressed areas/different salinities Limits to transfer between different resources Transfer outside prescribed area – prohibited Transfers of authorisation to take recharged water – limited Transfers of authorisation to take carryover – limited
Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area: groundwater Subject to the revision of WAP Yes – based on the principles and objectives in water allocation plan 300 ML within a 1 km radius  Generally prohibited to stressed areas 
Generally prohibited from an area of high to low groundwater salinity
Prohibited between different resource types Prohibited Only if the location of the point of taking is unchanged Only if the location of the point of taking is unchanged
Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area: surface water/watercourse water Subject to the revision of WAP Yes – based on the principles and objectives in water allocation plan Dam capacity must be adjusted according to the allocation transfer (requires a permit for water-affecting activities including property and sub-catchment capacity limits)

Prohibited NA
Little Para Prescribed Watercourse Due to be incorporated in the WMLR PWRA Yes NA NA NA Prohibited NA NA
McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area Subject to the revision of WAP Yes – based on the principles and objectives in water allocation plan
Generally prohibited to stressed areas
Stressed areas can be defined by salinity
Prohibited from east to west of the Willunga Fault Prohibited Only if the location of the point of taking is unchanged for imported or effluent source water. 
Only within the same aquifer
Prohibited
Northern Adelaide Plains Prescribed Wells Area Subject to the revision of WAP Yes – based on the principles and objectives in WAP Generally prohibited from an area of low intensity pumping to an area of high- intensity pumping Generally prohibited from an area of high to low potentiometric surface
Generally prohibited to Q1 and Q2 aquifers with low salinity
Generally prohibited between different aquifers Prohibited Prohibited NA

NA: not applicable; WAP: water allocation plan; WMLR: Western Mt Lofty Ranges