Bureau Home » Water Information » National Water Account » 2016 Account » Murray–Darling Basin » Supporting information » Water access and use

National Water Account 2016

Murray–Darling Basin: Water access and use

Approximately 75% of the region's water rights was for individual users, primarily for irrigation supply; less than 4% of the region's water rights was for the urban water system. Surface water use decreased from the previous year due to predominantly dry conditions across the region reducing water availability.

 



  

Water rights, entitlements, allocations and restrictions

The Murray River during the early hours of the morning. Source: iStock © Totajla

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 and abstractions.

The 2016 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 comparisons between the 2016 water accounting reports, 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 Murray–Darling Basin region for the 2015–16 year have been classified as shown below.

 

Surface water entitlements

Surface water rights in the Murray–Darling Basin region during the 2015–16 year refer to surface water supply for:

  • basic rights—70,322 ML
  • individual users—11,725,629 ML
  • urban water system—655,209 ML
  • environmental purposes—4,290,188 ML.

The majority of these water rights are made up of allocated entitlements; those remaining are non-allocated.

The volumes of surface water entitlement and diversion for the 2015–16 year compared with the previous four years are shown in Figure S9. The percentage shows the ratio of diversion to the water entitlement. Basic water rights not under a water entitlement within the region are also shown in Figure S9.

A more detailed breakdown of surface water rights and entitlements within the Murray–Darling Basin region based on water resource plan area is available from this downloadable table.

 

Figure S9 Surface water access entitlements and diversions in the Murray–Darling Basin region for the years ending 30 June, from 2012–2016
Figure S9 Surface water access entitlements and diversions in the Murray–Darling Basin region for the years ending 30 June, from 2012–2016

 

Water entitlements for consumptive use (individual users and the urban system) slightly increased from the previous year (Figure S9). Most of the surface water entitlement for individual users was for irrigation supply, which includes supply to private irrigators and irrigation schemes within the region. Water entitlements for environmental purposes also increased marginally from last year (Figure S9), reflecting the acquisition of entitlements from water-saving projects.

Total surface water diversion for consumptive use during the 2015–16 year was 6,339,459 ML, a 13% decrease from the previous year. This decrease can be attributed to dry conditions across the region for most of the year that reduced water availability. Surface water diversion for urban supply, however, increased by 30% compared with the previous year, primarily due to Adelaide's reliance on water transfers from the River Murray. Adelaide received 153,340 ML from the River Murray during the 2015–16 year compared to 73,190 ML during the previous year.

Net surface water diversions for environmental purposes also decreased from the previous year (Figure S9), which, similar to consumptive use, reflects the decrease in water availability. (It should be noted that gross water diversions for environmental purposes, however, increased by 8% from the previous year due to the use of more return flows.)

 

Groundwater entitlements

Groundwater rights in the Murray–Darling Basin region during the 2015–16 year refer to groundwater supply for:

  • basic rights—237,674 ML
  • individual users—2,221,654 ML
  • urban water supply—51,409 ML
  • environmental purposes—8,956 ML
  • salt interception and other purposes—185,925 ML.

The majority of these water rights are made up of allocated entitlements; those remaining are non-allocated.

The volumes of groundwater entitlement and extraction for the 2015–16 year compared with the previous four years are shown in Figure S10. The percentage shows the ratio of extraction to the water entitlement. Basic water rights not under a water entitlement within the region are also shown in Figure S10.

A more detailed breakdown of groundwater rights and entitlements within the Murray–Darling Basin region based on water resource plan area is available in this downloadable table.

 

Figure S10 Groundwater access entitlements and extractions in the Murray–Darling Basin region for the years ending 30 June, from 2012–2016
Figure S10 Groundwater access entitlements and extractions in the Murray–Darling Basin region for the years ending 30 June, from 2012–2016

 

Water entitlements for consumptive use (individual users and the urban system) decreased by almost 10% during the 2015–16 year compared with the previous year (Figure S10), mostly due to a decrease in supplementary entitlements in New South Wales. There has been a gradual decrease in supplementary entitlements in New South Wales every year. All of the groundwater entitlements for individual users were for irrigation supply, which includes supply to private irrigators and irrigation schemes within the region.

Water entitlements for non-consumptive use (environmental purposes) increased by approximately 9,000 ML during the 2015–16 year due to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder acquiring entitlements in Upper Condamine Alluvium (Queensland) and several sustainable diversion limit units within New South Wales.

Total groundwater extraction for consumptive use during the 2015–16 year was 1,528,993 ML, a marginal decrease from the previous year. Similar to last year, there were no groundwater extractions for environmental purposes during the year.

 

Combined surface water and groundwater rights

In the Australian Capital Territory, there are provisions to abstract water from either surface water or groundwater as specified in the entitlement category 'combined surface water and groundwater rights'. For the 2015–16 year, the entitled volume was 2,112 ML. This volume is included in the surface water basic rights (Figure S9).

 

Landscape water rights

Runoff harvesting entitlements are the water rights under which landscape runoff is harvested into farm dams. Reliable information on runoff harvesting entitlement volumes was not available for inclusion in the region's water account. Harvesting by run-off dams during the 2015–16 year, based on s.71 data provided by jurisdictions to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, was estimated to be 2,037,000 ML (excluding the volume for areas in Victoria). This volume also excludes estimated interception by plantations (231,000 ML).

A brief description of the different terms used by jurisdictions within the Murray–Darling Basin region and how runoff that is harvested from the land is managed is provided in the downloadable pdf document here. This document contains information compiled by the Bureau from various sources.

 

Water restrictions

The downloadable table provides information on water restrictions applicable during the 2015–16 year for different entitlement classes within the region.

More information on limitations related to available water for New South Wales sustainable diversion limit resource units are available from the NSW DPI Water available water determinations for 2015–16.

Information on limitations on allocations for high- and low-reliability water shares (non-urban use) in Victorian sustainable diversion limit resource units for 2015–16 is available from the monthly water report from the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

For the sustainable diversion limit resource units not included in the downloadable table, water restriction information was not available. More information on current restrictions is available on the Bureau's Water Restrictions website.

 

Water market activity

Black Swans at Steamer Plain, Barmah-Millewa Forest. Source: Murray–Darling Basin Authority © Keith Ward

Surface water and groundwater entitlement and allocation trade within the Murray–Darling Basin region during the 2015–16 year are summarised in Table S8. No water was traded into or out of the Murray–Darling Basin region during the year.

 

Table S8 Summarised information on entitlement and allocation water trade within the Murray–Darling Basin region during the 2015–16 year
DescriptionVolume (ML)
Surface water entitlement trade and lease1,192,764
Surface water allocation and tagged trade within region5,346,867
Groundwater entitlement trade and lease166,731
Groundwater allocation and tagged trade219,658

 

Inter-state surface water allocation trade

Inter-state allocation trade during the 2015–16 year resulted in net inward movement of water for Queensland and South Australia and net outward movement for New South Wales and Victoria (Table S9 and Figure S11). A similar trend of net allocation trade was observed during the previous two years. Over 80% of water transferred to South Australia from the other States was for environmental purposes. Further details on allocation trade are provided in this downloadable table.

 

Table S9 Net inter-state allocation trade for the States within the region during 2015–16 year
FromToNet allocation trade (ML)
New South WalesQueensland8,826
New South WalesSouth Australia67,547
New South WalesVictoria174,759
VictoriaSouth Australia636,844

 

 

Figure S11 Direction and volume (ML) of interstate allocation trades in the Murray–Darling Basin during the 2015–16 year
Figure S11 Direction and volume (ML) of interstate allocation trades in the Murray–Darling Basin during the 2015–16 year

 

Water use

Deniliquin bowling greens. Source: Murray–Darling Basin Authority © Brayden Dykes

Economic benefits

Surface water and groundwater resources within the Murray–Darling Basin region are used primarily for irrigation supply to support the agriculture industry. Town water supplies are made for various purposes, including residential needs, industrial and commercial purposes.

Water supply made for individual users and urban water systems under some of the entitlement classes relevant to the following entitlement categories have contributed to economic benefits:

The 2016 Account does not recognise details of economic contributions made under the entitlement classes of those entitlement categories.

It is also possible that water supply made under other statutory surface water and groundwater rights have also contributed to economic benefits. The 2016 Account does not recognise those contributions.

Most of the consumptive water use in the region is for irrigation water supply. Based on information provided by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) for the 2016 Account, net irrigation water supply for the 2015–16 year was approximately 7,040,349 ML (which comprised 5,783,488 ML of surface water and 1,256,861 ML of groundwater). This is approximately 14% less water supply than the previous year, which can be attributed to lower surface water availability across the region during the months with high water demands.

 

Social benefits

Across the Murray–Darling Basin region, many towns and urban centres have an urban water system. The population abstracts water for drinking and commercial purposes. Town water supplies are made for various purposes including residential needs, and industrial and commercial purposes. These have been categorised under the social benefit category, assuming their main purpose within the Murray–Darling Basin region is to serve residential needs. With that assumption, water right or entitlement classes directly related to social benefits identified in the Murray–Darling Basin region for the 2015–16 year were:

  • surface water basic right: stock and domestic
  • surface water entitlements: stock and domestic
  • surface water entitlements: urban supplies
  • surface water entitlements: high security—community and education
  • surface water entitlements: high security—research
  • groundwater basic right: stock and domestic
  • groundwater entitlements: urban supplies.

It is also possible that water supplies made under entitlement categories other than stated in the above list have contributed to social benefits. The 2016 Account does not recognise those contributions.

Stock and domestic licences for surface water and groundwater basic rights allow the right-holders to abstract water to meet basic requirements for household and stock purposes. Urban water entitlements associated with surface water and groundwater allow water utilities and local councils to provide water for residential needs.

 

Cultural benefits

Cultural right allows abstraction of water by anyone who holds native title rights with respect to water, as determined under the Australian Government Native Title Act 1993. The right-holders can abstract water for a range of needs without holding a water access licence. This includes accessing water for personal, domestic and non-commercial communal purposes such as:

  • manufacture of traditional artefacts
  • hunting, fishing, and gathering
  • recreation
  • cultural purposes
  • ceremonial purposes.

In general, water regimes required to support cultural values are not quantitatively defined in allocation plans; however, the cultural values are considered within the environmental water provisions.

Each jurisdiction has its own provisions to protect cultural values in the southern section of the region.

The New South Wales plans have also generally adopted an approach that indicates sites of Aboriginal significance, including wetlands, are managed through the environmental watering regime. A total volume of 14 ML has been recorded as Aboriginal cultural supplies in the Murrumbidgee sustainable diversion limit resource unit; no specific information was available to identify details of Aboriginal sites that benefitted from the supply in the 2015–16 year (New South Wales Government 2017a).

Information on cultural water provisions in other jurisdictions is not available for this account.

 

Environmental benefits

Water for environmental benefit in the Murray–Darling Basin region is delivered through two broad environmental water scenarios:

  • planned environmental water
  • held environmental water.

 

Planned environmental water

Planned environmental water is further categorised into:

  • planned partly regulated (or supplemented) surface water: the dominant feature of environmental water management in this categorisation is the ability to control or influence flow by operational releases from storage.
  • planned unregulated surface water: in this categorisation, water is managed for environmental benefit by controlling the water access regime.

Planned, partly regulated surface water occurs in some river reaches in the Murray-Darling Basin region through the active release of environmental allocations from a storage at the direction of the respective environmental entitlement holder or when triggers are met (not directed). The water regime in place at given locations on the rivers (environmental water determination) and the storage release rules (environmental water commitments) are specified in approved water sharing and management plans that are listed under Water management plans in 'Water management'.

Environmental water determination for planned unregulated surface water categorisation is based on provisions made in approved water sharing and management plans. Water management plans in 'Water management' include details of these plans within the Murray-Darling Basin region.

 

Held environmental water

Based on the information received for this account, there was 4,300,000 ML of environmental entitlements from surface water and groundwater sources within the Murray-Darling Basin region at 30 June 2016. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) managed 2,432,000 ML of these entitlements, which have a long-term average yield of 1,692,000 ML per year (against the total of 1,981,000 ML) as applicable at the end of the 2015–16 year. In addition to CEWH holdings, some Basin States, The Living Murray programme and other smaller programmes also have their own entitlements.

Entitlement volumes shown in this note (4,300,000 ML) reflect only those that have been recorded as being legally held (or under the administrative operations of the environmental water manager). The entitlement volumes will be subject to change due to various reasons (e.g. acquisition of entitlements from water-saving projects).

 

Environmental water outcomes

Consolidated information on water released under entitlements held for the benefit of the environment was not available for the 2015–16 year. Available information on environmental water outcomes, primarily on held environmental water categorisation, is provided here.

A detailed downloadable table is available for entitlements for environmental purposes held or owned and the volume delivered by environmental managers in the Murray Darling Basin region, as applicable in the 2015-16 year. The delivered volume, 1,364,143 ML, stated in this account is the estimated net volume under the held environmental water category, based on information available at the data collection stage for this account. The volume is determined after deducting known return flows (estimated to be over 591,000 ML) and excludes water delivered under environmental water allowances made under water resource plans (estimated to be over 400,000 ML, excluding Victorian information which was not available).

Commonwealth programmes

During the 2015–16 year, 1,553,000 ML of Commonwealth environmental water (gross volume) was delivered within the Murray–Darling Basin region. Details on where and how the delivered volume was used are available from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder website.

In 2015–16, a total of 119,000 ML (gross volume) of The Living Murray environmental water was delivered to the following six River Murray icon sites (New South Wales Government 2017b, Victorian Environmental Water Holder 2017):

This was achieved by coordinating flows from the Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe systems with other environmental holders resulting in maximum ecological benefit at multiple sites throughout the River Murray system. More information about environmental water delivery under the Living Murray Initiative can be obtained from MDBA website.

Queensland

Queensland delivered 12,560 ML of unsupplemented water managed by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) and other owners for environment purposes during the 2015–16 year. In addition, over 95,000 ML of environmental water was delivered under the provisions made in Queensland water resource plans (primarily rule-based flow).

Information on the environmental water entitlements managed by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder in Queensland is available from its website.

New South Wales

New South Wales delivered approximately 376,875 ML of gross volume of held environmental water sourced from all entitlement holders to wetlands and areas of high biodiversity value in New South Wales rivers during the 2015–16 year. The volume does not include water delivered under environmental water allowances (estimated to be over 150,000 ML). As such, the stated volume is an underestimation of actual water delivery. The reported volume (volume delivered under environmental water allowances) for the 2015–16 year was 3% higher than the relevant volume reported for the 2014–15 year.

Australian Capital Territory

Information on environmental watering activities in the Australian Capital Territory was not available.

Victoria

Victoria delivered approximately 56,797 ML of net environmental water sourced from all entitlement holders. The delivered gross volume was around 650,000 ML. The volumes include use of allocations from supplementary entitlements. Information about environmental watering in Victoria is available from the Victorian Environmental Water Holder's watering update website. The gross delivered volume for the 2015–16 year was 5% higher than the volume reported for the 2014–15 year; however, the net volume for the 2015–16 year showed a decrease because of reuse of more return flow during the year.

Information on volumes delivered under environmental water allowances made in water resource plans and bulk entitlement orders was not available.

South Australia

South Australia delivered 917,911 ML of held environmental water sourced from all entitlement holders. The volume includes return flow from upstream states. For the 2015–16 year, delivered total volume was 13% higher than the volume reported for the 2014–15 year. In addition, there were over 150,000 ML of environmental water delivered under allowances made in water resource plans.