National Water Account 2019

Murray–Darling Basin: Water rights

  • Water access entitlement holders and other statutory right holders can abstract water in 33 water resource plan areas in the Murray–Darling Basin region.
  • Licences to take water for consumptive use are administered by the jurisdictional regulatory authorities.

For further information on water rights in the region scroll down this page or click on the links below:


Operating rules and constraints


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

  • Water access entitlements (WAEs), when added to other statutory (non-entitled) water rights (e.g. basic rights for stock and domestic purposes), represent the total volume of water rights that have been granted for use.
  • A percentage of an entitlement may be available for abstraction during the year, subject to allocations, announcements and other licence conditions; however, water availability under statutory rights is normally not subject to allocation announcements.
  • In each State and Territory, WAEs and water allocation planning exist in a framework of State and Territory legislation and water resource plans. Terminology and mechanisms within these frameworks vary between the States and the Territory.
  • In the Murray–Darling Basin region, WAEs may be issued within regulated and unregulated systems (called 'supplemented' and 'unsupplemented' systems in Queensland). WAEs in unregulated systems and regulated systems with continuous accounting rules can specify maximum volumes that can be abstracted, either in one year or over a period of several years.
  • In some jurisdictions within the region, diversions of water are possible only during extreme events such as floods. These diversions are known as off-allocation diversions, supplementary flows, water harvesting, overland flows or spillage sales.
  • As part of their commitment to the National Water Initiative, States and Territory separate the bundled components of the right to access a share of the water resource (WAEs, where they exist) from the land and from the other water rights such as the right to abstract water (or have it delivered), the right to use water for a given purpose and the right to build a work.
  • Across the Murray–Darling Basin region, licences have been issued for hydropower generators. They are not reported upon in the National Water Account as they are non-consumptive and not expressed in terms of volume.
  • For more information on water rights specific to each State and Territory, visit the relevant National Water Account regions: Queensland (South East Queensland region); New South Wales (Sydney region); Australian Capital Territory (Canberra region); Victoria (Melbourne region) and South Australia (Adelaide region).


Water allocations

  • The water sharing rules and water accounting policies in effect vary throughout the Murray–Darling Basin region.
  • Water allocation is the predominant mechanism to share surface water regulated flows. In systems with annual accounting rules, allocation announcements are made by the relevant water authority ranging from 0–100% availability, depending upon the class of entitlement and water source.
  • On 1 July each year, subsequent to allocation announcements and carryover rules, the water account of entitlement holders is credited with their water allocation and the carried over volume from the previous year. This volume of water may be abstracted, traded or stored.
  • Different carryover rules in each State and Territory and management plan define the amount of allocation that can be carried over and accessed in the next water year.
  • Unregulated surface water flows can only be accessed once predetermined flow conditions are met and in a manner that is consistent with diversion conditions specified in the works or use licences by the relevant jurisdiction.
  • An alternative water sharing method, referred to as 'continuous accounting' that allows users to have a share of system storage capacity and inflows, operates in several water resource plan areas throughout Queensland and New South Wales.
  • Access to groundwater is either made under formal allocation announcement or by default 100% of the entitlement unless restrictions apply.
  • For more information on water allocations rules specific to each State or Territory, refer to the relevant National Water Account regions: Queensland (South East Queensland region); New South Wales (Sydney region); Australian Capital Territory (Canberra region); Victoria (Melbourne region) and South Australia (Adelaide region).


Trades and water rights transfers

Water market rules: interstate trading

  • Water users are able to trade water entitlements and allocations in the Murray–Darling Basin region. Trading of entitlements and allocations occurs between and within valleys, and across State and Territory borders.
  • Interstate surface water trade is primarily available in the southern part of the Murray–Darling Basin region in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. In the northern part, interstate surface water trade is available between New South Wales and Queensland within the Border Rivers water resource plan areas.
  • Trade in the southern part of the region is conducted under Schedule D of the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, which appears as Schedule 1 to the Australian Government Water Act 2007.
  • The framework for interstate trade in the Border Rivers water resource plan areas is provided in the New South Wales–Queensland Border Rivers Intergovernmental Agreement 2008 (New South Wales Government and Queensland Government 2008).
  • Since July 2007, the interstate allocation trade market in the southern part of the region has resulted in the net movement of water into South Australia, due in part to the extended drought.
  • Allocation trading mechanisms have also been used to facilitate the delivery of environmental water across zones and State and Territory borders, particularly in South Australia in recent years.


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

  • Inter-valley trading rules are defined in State and Territory legislation, water resource plans and the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement. Some interstate trading rules also cover inter-valley trading.
  • Inter-valley water trading is generally available within the southern part of the region rather than in the northern part.
  • Surface water trading within valleys is usually available within regulated systems. Groundwater trading within an aquifer is available in limited areas, usually only where a water resource plan has been developed.


Basin Plan and other water trading rules

  • The Basin Plan water trading rules apply alongside existing State and Territory and irrigation infrastructure operator trading rules.
  • In addition, the Commonwealth Water Minister makes the water market rules under the Water Act. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission applies these rules through its monitoring, enforcement, advisory and, price-setting roles.


Restrictions on trade

  • Generally, trade of water entitlements between and within surface water resource systems is restricted if there are physical constraints, environmental considerations, hydrologic connections, water supply considerations, or low hydraulic connectivity.