Adelaide
Water access and use

Water rights, entitlements, allocations and restrictions

a. Introduction

This note provides information about the water access rights granted by jurisdictions to the users of the region's water resources and the associated allocation announcements, diversions, and forfeitures. Information about restrictions to water access rights is also included in this note.

The 2013 Account acknowledges that the legislative water resource management frameworks relating to Australian water rights vary greatly across jurisdictions, sometimes making comparisons difficult. To facilitate meaningful comparison between the water accounting reports included in the 2013 Account, the Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau) has developed and applied an accounting concept to classify and report water entitlements within a water-asset/water-liability framework.

According to that framework, water rights for the Adelaide region for the 2012–13 year have been classified as disclosed in Table 1 and Table 2.

b. Surface water rights

In the National Water Account, the term surface water has a different meaning to that used by the South Australian legislation. To provide national consistency across multiple jurisdictions, the 2013 Account defines surface water as:

  • Water connected, either seasonally or perennially, to the rivers and not yet abstracted for consumptive purpose. It includes water administered by jurisdictions and water stored in surface water storages. It excludes water in off-channel water, urban water systems and irrigation schemes.

This classification differs from South Australia's Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (the Act) which defines 'surface water as water flowing over the land, whether modified or not, excluding water contained in a watercourse'.

  • Watercourse water is defined as water flowing in a river, creek, or other natural watercourse, whether modified or not, with defined bed and banks.
  • Water held in infrastructure such as dams, reservoirs and stormwater schemes are assigned to either surface water or watercourse water based on the location of the infrastructure. Channels used to divert watercourse water are a modification to the watercourse and therefore part of the watercourse. 

Following the 2013 Account definition, surface water rights consist of water rights associated with diverting water from a watercourse.

Table 1 summarises the surface water rights for the Adelaide region, including surface water allocations, abstractions, adjustments and forfeitures during the 2012–13 year.


Table 1  Summarised information on surface water rights for the Adelaide region
Water rights (at 30 June 2013) Water allocation (2012–13) Water abstraction/use (2012–13) Forfeiture/adjustment (2012–13)
Reporting line item Volume (ML) Account line item Volume (ML) Account line item Volume (ML) Account line item Volume (ML)
32.1 Other statutory surface water rights  n/a n/a n/a 17.6 2,006 n/a n/a
32.3 Surface water access entitlement for allocated diversions 3,417 21.1 3,417 17.11 1,010 13.1 2,210
143,000 21.2 143,000 17.12 57,281 13.2 85,719
Total 146,417   146,417   60,297
  87,929

Note that water allocations, abstractions, forfeitures/adjustments as shown in italics in Table 1 relate to surface water entitlements to the urban water system. These line items are reported in the Surface water section of the 'Water resources and systems' note; however, they do not appear in the water accounting statements because they are transactions that occurred within the region. These transactions did not impact the region's total water assets and water liabilities.


Figure 1 Comparison of surface water allocations and abstractions in the 2012–13 year to the 2011–12 year
Figure 1 Comparison of surface water allocations and abstractions in the 2012–13 year to the 2011–12 year
* Diversion volumes represented in graph are for line item 17.12 for the 2012–13 year and line item 17.8 for the 2011–12 year. Allocation volume represents line item 21.2 for the 2012–13 year. Allocation volume is equal to the diversion volume (line item 17.8) for the 2011–12 year.


During the 2012–13 year, SA Water was issued with a licence to divert up to an annual maximum of 143,000 ML of surface water from the Western Mount Lofty Ranges Prescribed Water Resources Area for the purposes of public water supply. Consequently, the volume of water diverted from surface water during the 2012–13 year was reported at line item 17.12 Entitled diversion of allocated surface water to urban water system, rather than line item 17.8 Entitled diversion of non-allocated surface water to urban water system used in 2011–12. For the 2011–12 year the allocation is assumed to equal the diversion (line item 17.8).

Figure 1 shows that allocations and diversions to private surface water licence holders changed very little between the two reporting years. There was a 5 ML increase in the volume of surface water allocated to private licence holders and a small  decrease (106 ML) in the total volume of surface water diverted to private licence holders from the 2011–12 year to 2012–13 year.

More information about the items presented in Table 1 and Figure 1 is provided in the linked line item notes.

c. Groundwater rights

Table 2 summarises the groundwater rights for the Adelaide region, including surface water allocations, abstractions, adjustments and forfeitures during the 2012–13 year.


Table 2  Summarised information on groundwater rights, allocations, abstractions, adjustments and forfeitures for the Adelaide region during the 2012–13 year.
Water rights (at 30 June 2013) Water allocation (2012–13) Water abstraction/use (2012–13) Forfeiture/adjustment (2012–13)
Account line item Volume (ML) Account line item Volume (ML) Account line item Volume (ML) Account line item Volume (ML)
33.1 Other statutory groundwater rights  n/a n/a n/a 18.7 26,647 n/a n/a
33.3 Groundwater access entitlement for allocated diversions 48,343 22.1 48,343 18.11 27,528 14.1 23,515
Total 48,339   48,343   54,175   23,515

More information about the items presented in Table 2 is provided in the linked line item notes.

Water market activity

In the Adelaide region, trade or lease of water entitlements and allocations does not occur between prescribed areas consumptive pools but can occur within them if they are managed under a water allocation plan.

Accordingly, surface water trade reported for the Adelaide region during the 2012–13 year includes trades within the Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area (PWRA) only.

Similarly, groundwater trade reported for the Adelaide region during the 2012–13 year includes trade within the following groundwater resource areas:

  • Barossa PWRA
  • McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area (PWA)
  • Northern Adelaide Plains PWA.

Table 3 summarises water market trade activity in the Adelaide region during the 2012–13 year.

Table 3  Trade and lease of water access entitlements and allocations in the Adelaide region during the 2012–13 year
Water resource Line item Volume (ML) No. of trades
Surface water 35.1 Trade of surface water entitlement within region 0 0
Groundwater 38.1 Trade of groundwater entitlement within region 4,664 67
39.1 Lease of groundwater entitlement within region 127 9
40.1 Groundwater allocation trade within region 157 20
Total 4,948 96

Refer to individual line items in Table 3 for further information.

Water use

Economic, social and cultural benefit

Surface water and groundwater are used for economic purposes in the Adelaide region including urban water supply as well as private water supply for stock, rural domestic, irrigation, commercial, and industrial purposes. For a summary of the water volumes allocated for various economic purposes within the region refer to line items 32.3 and 33.3.

Social and cultural uses are not typically covered by water rights, even in prescribed areas. Stock and domestic water use, including Indigenous use, is considered a basic right. These rights are described in the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia), the Native Title Act 1983 (Cwth) and the notice of authorisation to take water for stock and domestic purposes and for native title purposes (published in the South Australian Government Gazette).

Social and cultural water use is licensed in specific instances as detailed in the relevant water allocation plan. For example, stock and domestic groundwater use is licensed in the Northern Adelaide Plains Prescribed Wells Area. There are also a small number of water licences for recreational use in the Little Para Prescribed Watercourse and the Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area. For further information refer to the relevant water allocation plan:

Environmental benefit

Information on legislative, administrative and governing arrangements of environmental water in the region is available in the Environmental water management section of the 'Contextual information'.

In the Adelaide region, water for environmental benefit is provided according to three different environmental water management scenarios:

  • planned unregulated surface water
  • planned partly regulated surface water
  • planned groundwater.
Planned unregulated surface water

Environmental water determination

In the planned unregulated surface water situation, environmental water requirements are met by controlling the water access regime through water allocation plans.

Water allocation plans consider the capacity of the water resource to meet demands and the needs of water-dependent ecosystems in developing rules and principles for allocating water resources. In the Adelaide region, currently only the surface waters of the Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area (PWRA) are managed by a water allocation plan (Barossa PWRA Water Allocation Plan). The Western Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA Water Allocation Plan was adopted on 17 September 2013 under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia). As a result of this adoption, surface water licences were issued throughout the Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA. As this adoption occurred after the 2012–13 reporting period, any environmental provisions of the water allocation plan do not apply.

The Barossa PWRA Water Allocation Plan identifies ecological flow requirements for water-dependent ecosystems in three reaches of the North Para River, located within the managed area (p. 5, Figure 2). The ecological flow requirements considers different flow bands (baseflow, freshets, pool connection, etc.) and identifies target streamflow regimes (volume, timing, and frequency) for each of these flow bands. The ecological flow requirements for each reach are described in more detail in the Barossa PWRA Water Allocation Plan (pp. 12–13: Tables 4–6) and were developed to ensure that the frequency and seasonality of streamflows closely resembles what would occur naturally.

Environmental water commitment

The environmental water commitment describes how the ecological flow objectives are achieved through the operation of the water allocation plan. The Barossa PWRA Water Allocation Plan aims to ensure that the diversion of water from a watercourse does not adversely affect downstream water-dependent ecosystems by reducing streamflow. This is achieved by the provision of passing flows during periods of flow at or below the threshold rate. The applicable threshold flow rates are described in more detail in principles 63–64 (pp. 49–50) of the water allocation plan.

Environmental water outcomes

Although the Barossa PWRA Water Allocation Plan describes target streamflows and rules associated with water licences to achieve this, these regimes are not used for monitoring or compliance.

Planned partly regulated surface water

Environmental water determination and commitment

In the planned partly regulated surface water situation, environmental water requirements are met by operational releases from storages to control or influence flows. During the 2012–13 year, SA Water was issued with a water licence under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (South Australia). This licence entitles SA Water to divert up to an annual maximum of 143,000 ML of surface water from the Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA for the purposes of public water supply. According to the licence conditions, SA Water will participate in an environmental flow trial with the objective of establishing, timing, frequency, duration and governance of environmental flows up to 16,500 ML per annum as defined under the Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA Water Allocation Plan.

Environmental outcomes

No information was available on the water released under the trial program during the 2012–13 year.