Adelaide
Water rights

Operating rules and constraints

Water allocation plans (WAPs) 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 and other statutory water rights

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

Water rights under the Act are administered by the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (prior to 1 July 2012, 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. Licences may be issued in areas without a water allocation plan.
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 (WAE) 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 (PWA) and under certain circumstances in the Western Mount Lofty Ranges Prescribed Water Resources Area (PWRA).
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

Prescribed water resources areas covered by a water allocation plan (WAP) have water licences on issues. WAPs have been adopted in the following areas: Barossa PWRA, McLaren Vale PWA and Northern Adelaide Plains PWA. The Little Para Prescribed Watercourse (PWC) and Dry Creek PWA do not have an approved WAP  however water licences are issued for these areas. 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. 

Table R2  Summary of water licences in the Adelaide region

Prescribed area

Water resources

Purpose / security class / note

Barossa PWRA

Groundwater1
Watercourse2
Surface water3

Irrigation
Industrial

Northern Adelaide Plains PWA

Groundwater4

Irrigation
Industrial
Stock and domestic

McLaren Vale PWA

Groundwater5

No purpose stated

Little Para PWC

Watercourse6

Irrigation


Central Adelaide PWA

Groundwater7

Water licences for existing user to be determined. New users to be considered when water allocation plan is adopted.

Dry Creek PWA

Groundwater8

No water allocation plan adopted yet but water licences have been issued for industrial salt production.

Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA
(including watercourses across the plains i.e. River Torrens, Onkaparinga River and Gawler River prescribed watercourses)

Groundwater9
Watercourse10
Surface water11

Water licences for existing users to be finalised. New users to be considered when water allocation plan is adopted.

South Australian River Murray PWC

Water is used in the Adelaide region, but allocated from the River Murray consumptive pool under a water access entitlement.

Watercourse12

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.



By definition of the resource under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia):

1,4-5,7-9 refers to 'underground water' and includes all water occurring naturally underground plus water pumped, diverted or released into a well for storage underground.

2,6,10,12 refers to water in the river channel only.

3,11 refers to water flowing over the land but not in a watercourse and includes catchment resources (farm dams, run-off and stormwater).

Water allocations

Allocation announcements

Bundled water licences

In the Adelaide region, water licences for prescribed resources, i.e. 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. Current water allocation plans were adopted prior to the changes to the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia) to support separated WAEs and water allocations. Therefore a variation to the volume on the water licence is a variation to both the water access entitlement and the water allocation.

The majority of the prescribed resources in the Adelaide region have volumetric allocations. The Barossa PWRA 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 PWC are unbundled and managed as four separate instruments: a WAE, water allocation, water resource works approval and site-use approval.  

Allocation announcements for water licensed for taking 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 and gazette notices in South Australia can be accessed at the Water for Good website. 

Carryover credits

Any unused water allocations at 30 June each year are forfeited, but the volume forfeited forms credits that are used to calculate partial carryover into the next year's 'carryover credits'. Carryover credits can accrue over a number of years and can be accumulated from unused allocations and other sustainable practices. Only the McLaren Vale PWA and the Barossa PWRA allow carryover credits in their WAPs. 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 PWRA
Surface water and watercourse water

Groundwater
Up to 30%

Up to 10%
Northern Adelaide Plains PWA
Groundwater Carryover not permitted
McLaren Vale PWA Groundwater Up to 30%
Little Para 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 permitted1
Class 3a: private carryover not permitted2

1 The WAP for the River Murray PWC details that carryover of allocations on a Class 6 entitlement is not permitted.
2 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 determined as potentially extractable and added to the recharge water credit carried over from previous recharge periods. A WAE and water allocation are then issued to allow extraction of all or part of the recharge water credit during the water year. The water access entitlements issued on the recharged water have a duration limited to one year. This arrangement is called managed aquifer recharge (MAR).

The conditions associated with allocating and carrying over recharge credits are described in the relevant WAP 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 WAP and the Natural Resources Management Act 2004(South Australia). There are no provisions for interstate trade of water rights.

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

The rules specified in the respective WAPs 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 PWRA
  • Northern Adelaide Plains PWA
  • McLaren Vale PWA.

Within each prescribed area, all trades are assessed by the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources based on the principles and objectives stated in the relevant WAP.

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.
  • Any proposed trade must be approved by the relevant South Australian Minister. This power is delegated to officers of the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

Although water trades between prescribed areas are not allowed, water transfers other than trade may occur.

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 2011–12 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 parts of the same resource

Transfer outside prescribed area – prohibited

Transfers of authorisation to take recharged water – limited

Transfers of authorisation to take carryover – limited

Barossa PWRA: 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 PWRA: 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 n/a
Little Para PWC Due to be incorporated in the WMLR PWRA Yes n/a n/a n/a Prohibited n/a n/a
McLaren Vale PWA 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 PWA 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 n/a