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National Water Account 2017

Adelaide: Water rights

There are currently four prescribed water resources areas that are sustainably managed under water allocation plans in the Adelaide region. The region also takes advantage of aquifer recharge with the ability for licence holders to access water that has been actively injected into groundwater through recharge credits. The South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources has been working on unbundling water rights to streamline the allocation process.


For further information on the region's water management scroll down this page or click on the links below:


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.


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

Rights described in section 124 of the Act apply to the entire Adelaide region, whereas rights described in sections 128, 132, and 164N only apply to prescribed water resources. These water rights do not represent an entitlement and do not receive a formal allocation. Refer to the Act  for detailed information on these water rights, which are briefly summarised as follows: 

  • section 124(4) allows the occupier of land to take water from a watercourse or well for use by the occupier of the land for domestic purposes or for watering stock
  • section 124(6) allows the taking of water for the purposes of drinking or cooking
  • section 128 allows certain uses of water by notice of the Minister published in the South Australian Government gazette, including: roof runoff (up to 500 kL); firefighting; road-making; control of pests, plants and animals on non-irrigated land; and stormwater capture and reuse projects
  • section 132 prohibits or restricts the taking of water from a prescribed or non-prescribed water resource by notice of the Minister published in the South Australian Government gazette
  • section 164N allows an existing user of a prescribed water resource and, subject to an authorisation under section 132, to continue to use water without a water management authorisation for a set period of time.

Native title holders, as determined under the Australian Government Native Title Act 1983, can take water for cooking, washing and drinking purposes.

Water licences

Prescribed water resources areas covered by a water allocation plan have water licences on issue. Water allocation plans have been adopted in the following areas: Barossa Prescribed Water Resources Area (PWRA), Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA, McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area (PWA) and Northern Adelaide Plains PWA. Dry Creek PWA does not have an approved water allocation plan; however, water licences are issued for this area.  All water licences in the region have entitlements expressed as a volume per year.


Water allocations

Allocation announcements

Bundled water licences

In the Adelaide region, water licences for prescribed resources, that is, 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 Act to support separated water access entitlements 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.

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 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. The legislative history of all prescribed resources and gazette notices in South Australia can be accessed at the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources website.

Rollover allocations

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.  Currently, the McLaren Vale PWA, the Barossa PWRA and the Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA allow carryover up to a maximum percentage of the annual allocation as detailed in the relevant water allocation plan. Carryover is currently not permitted in the Northern Adelaide Plains PWA. In the Little Para Prescribed Water Course (PWC) and Central Adelaide PWA, carryover limits remain to be determined.

In the River Murray PWC, carryover of allocations on a Class 6 entitlement (for urban water supply) is not permitted according to the River Murray PWC Water Allocation Plan. Carryover of unused allocations for Class 3a water access entitlements (used in the Adelaide region for irrigation purposes) is governed by the River Murray Private Carryover Policy.

Recharged water credits/allocations

Recharged water refers to water that is actively injected into groundwater. Following a period of time (recharge period), a portion of this recharged water is available to be extracted as a recharge water credit and can be carried over from previous recharge periods. A water access entitlement and water allocation are then issued to allow extraction of all or part of the recharge water credit during the water year. 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 plans.


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 and the Act. 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 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 PWRA
  • Northern Adelaide Plains PWA
  • McLaren Vale PWA
  • Western Mount Lofty Ranges PWRA.

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 water allocation plan.

Restrictions on trade

The Act 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.

The trade restrictions, subject to Minister's approval,  specific to prescribed areas in the Adelaide region are contained in the following water allocation plans usually under the heading ‘transfer criteria’: