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Topics > River Murray > Water markets and trade

Buying and selling water

How can I purchase River Murray water? 

You may be able to locate a willing seller yourself; in which case you can submit an appropriate water transfer form to the department, either by post or online, and pay the required application fee.

Refer to the department’s forms A1 and L3 for water allocation, and water entitlement transfers and leases.

Otherwise various kinds of water market intermediaries facilitate the trade of water rights between buyers and sellers, including water brokers, water exchanges and some electronic message boards. The largest brokers will use an electronic exchange which can provide a good indication of market price, volume, depth and liquidity. Brokers can also be a good source of information and advice.

Purchasing water allocations 

Water allocation is different to water entitlement, in that water allocation has no defining characteristics in itself other than it is available for use or trade in the current water year (or carried over, where permitted).

From a practical perspective, there are not different types of water allocation, and water allocation does not usually vary in price among states or trading zones in the River Murray system unless a restriction on trade between two places leads to differences in supply and demand within each of those places. You may purchase water allocation from another SA Murray water holder, or from a water holder in any connected state or trading zone in the Southern Connected System ― so long as there are no restrictions in place that would prevent such a transfer.

Can I purchase water allocation for next year in the current water use year? 

Yes. Some water brokers (not DEWNR) facilitate ‘forward’ water allocation markets whereby a buyer may enter a contract with a seller to buy water allocation for a set price, with delivery at an agreed date in the future. Buying allocation from a seller on a forward basis can be beneficial in that it can mitigate against future pricing uncertainties. The delivery of the bought volume on the agreed delivery date is guaranteed by a contract provided by the broker and entered into between the seller and buyer. 

Note that the forward water allocation market is a relatively new market offering by water brokers. As such, the availability of purchasing options may be much lower than the availability of allocation on the ‘spot’ market for the current water use year. The forward market will typically gain momentum:

  1. Near the end of the irrigation season, when the total end-of-season usage can be better estimated; and
  2. After state government agencies have provided their first water resource outlooks for the following water year, including in relation to forecast inflows and allocations and carryover, against which the likely water availability and water usage needs for the following year can be better assessed. 

Forward water transfers are arrangements between a water broker and their customer. DEWNR has no involvement in these arrangements and will only determine transfer applications when they are lodged with the appropriate fee. 

Purchasing water entitlements 

The River Murray in SA is part of the Southern Connected System where there are many different water entitlements on offer. Entitlements can vary widely in price depending on their characteristics, such as:

  • the resource type that the entitlement belongs to i.e. surface water or groundwater
  • the flow regime of the particular resource, i.e. regulated by dams or unregulated
  • the average annual reliability of water allocations made to the entitlement
  • the tradeability of the entitlement/allocation to other regions or interstate; and
  • whether the carryover of unused water allocation between years is allowed and to what extent.

The most commonly transferred entitlement types and the volumes on entitlement are listed here. Further information on each water entitlement product is available here.  

The main consumptive SA Murray water access entitlements (Classes 1, 3a, 3b, 4 and 5) make up only a small proportion (~7 per cent) of the total volume of consumptive surface water entitlements on issue in the Southern Connected System. 

Most commonly transferred entitlement types and the volumes on entitlement

SA Murray water access entitlements

The current 2002 South Australian Water Allocation Plan for the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse (amended in 2011) describes nine entitlement share classes within the one River Murray consumptive pool.

For each class, the table below lists the number of shares, the equivalent volume (at an allocation of 1 kL per share), and the number of licence holders (updated March 2017)

Number of shares and licence holders by entitlement share class

The main tradeable consumptive entitlements include those in share Classes 1, 3a, 3b, 4, and 5. The total volume on entitlement in these classes is listed at 583.1 GL and 95 per cent of that volume is within Class 3a.

While the names of the classes suggest a particular purpose of use, a water allocation made to these entitlements can be used for any purpose.

The remaining share classes include:

  • Classes 2 and 6: entitlements held by SA Water to deliver water to towns along the River Murray in South Australia, as well as to Metropolitan Adelaide and other country areas that rely on water supplied form the River Murray
  • Classes 7‑9: entitlements predominantly held for land and environmental water management.
Note that:
  • An entitlement transfer will not be approved until all outstanding debt against the relevant water licence is settled
  • Some water brokers offer sellers the opportunity to transfer entitlements ‘wet’ or ‘dry’
    • When an entitlement is transferred ‘wet’, it means that all of the current year’s water allocation that has been made to the entitlement, from 1 July to the date of signing the water transfer contract, is included in the transfer price and made available to the buyer.
    • When an entitlement is transferred ‘dry’, the current year’s water allocation remains with the seller. 

Whether an entitlement includes the current allocation or not can affect the entitlement’s asking price. In either case, new water allocation that is made to the entitlement after the date of signing the transfer contract is made available to the buyer.

The facility to transfer water entitlements as ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ is an offering by some water brokers to their clients. DEWNR has no involvement in these arrangements and will only determine entitlement transfer applications when they are lodged with the appropriate fee.

Characteristics of the most commonly traded SA Murray water access entitlements

The links below provide information to summaries of the characteristics of the most commonly held and traded South Australian River Murray water access entitlement share classes.

Class 1 characteristics

Class 1 detailed information

Class 3a characteristics

Class 3a detailed information

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