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Topics > Water > Water planning > Water licences and permits > Unbundling water rights

Unbundling water rights on the River Murray

Frequently asked questions about unbundling water licence rights on the River Murray Prescribed Water Course.

What information will be reflected on my unbundled River Murray water licence? 

The water licence will specify:

  • name of holder and contact details
  • water resource
  • date of issue and expiry (if relevant)
  • dates of any variation
  • whole of licence temporary transfers, including reversion date
  • water access entitlements including
    • number of unit shares
    • the consumptive pool (in this case the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse) to which the shares relate
    • class of entitlement
    • temporary transfers of water access entitlements including number of unit shares, their class and date of return of any temporarily transferred entitlements
  • conditions - some classes of entitlements may have specific conditions. 

Can I convert from one class of entitlement to another?

You can convert from Class 3a to Class 3b or vice versa if you are moving water in or out of the Qualco-Sunlands Groundwater Control Trust Area. You cannot convert between other classes, because the relative reliability of the water allocations under each class has not been fixed in the water allocation plan and depends on the Minister’s decisions in relation to allocation of water during drought.

To enable conversion between water access entitlement classes an exchange rate would need to be developed. A policy on exchange rates may be developed and, once established, conversion between classes may be possible. Until then, the unit shares will remain in the class they were issued and water allocations will be issued reflecting the water available for those classes under prevailing conditions.

Unless there is a condition on the water allocation, the water can be used for any purpose as long as you have a site use approval that covers that use. For example, Class 3 entitlement allocations can be used for irrigation, domestic, industrial or recreational uses, provided the site use approval covers these purposes.

Who can apply for a site use approval?

Any legal entity can apply for a site use approval, although the land owner will be required to counter sign if the applicant is not the land owner.

The approval will be assessed according to criteria set out in the River Murray Water Allocation Plan. Conditions on a site use approval will be those set out in the water allocation plan that are relevant to the location or type of water use applied for.

Can I transfer a site use approval?

A site use approval is not transferable because it is attached to the land parcel or parcels to which it applies. However it is possible to change the name on the site use approval, e.g. when land is sold, leased or there is a change in lease.

It is important for the purchaser or lessee to have a clear agreement on what will happen to site use approval with the sale or lease of land.

The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources will only change the name of a site use approval holder when it receives an application to vary the site use approval and change the holder’s name from the current holder. This is similar to an application to vary the name against the registration of a car when a car is sold.

Can I change a site use approval?

You can apply to vary a site use approval, e.g. to add parcels of land on which water can be used or to change the conditions of use.

In such cases new technical or site assessments may be required and a fee will apply. The application will be assessed against the relevant policies in the water allocation plan, e.g. for salinity and water use efficiency.

Changes to a site use approval can also be made by the Minister in limited circumstances such as where the water allocation plan has been changed or where the Minister considers the variation is necessary to more effectively regulate the taking of water from the resource in accordance with the relevant water allocation plan and the NRM Act, or in accordance with the objects of the River Murray Act 2003 or the Objectives for a Healthy River Murray under that Act.

Administrative amendments can also be made, such as correcting an error or changing contact details on the site use approval.

There is already a site use approval for a parcel of land. Can I apply for another one on the same parcel?

It may be possible for there to be more than one site use approval on a land parcel. However, each separate site use approval holder would need to have his/her own meter reference number for compliance purposes.

What happens if the land endorsed on the site use approval is sold, leased or there is a change of lease?

The current holder of the site use approval can apply to vary the name, similar to an application to vary the name against the registration of a car when a car is sold.

How does the salinity zoning policy affect site use approvals?

To manage salinity in the River Murray, South Australia and other Basin states maintain a salinity register that they aim to keep in balance or in credit. While actions such as irrigation can generate a debit on the salinity register, credits can be achieved through actions such as salt interception schemes or changes to practices that reduce in-stream salinity levels.

The salinity zoning policy establishes three salinity impact zones: high, low and high (salt interception). The objective of the policy is to maximise the potential for further irrigated agricultural development within the River Murray Irrigation Management Zone, while ensuring that South Australia remains in credit on the salinity register.

The salinity zoning policy provides rules for granting a new site use approval, approving a variation to an existing site use approval and allocation of salinity credits within the salinity impact zones.New site use approvals, or variations to existing approvals, will need to meet different criteria for each zone.

In the low salinity impact zones, site use approvals can be issued, or volume limits increased on existing site use approvals, subject to South Australia having available salinity credits.

South Australia aims to ensure there are enough salinity credits available to allow for new, or variations to, existing site use approvals in low salinity impact zones. However, if South Australia fully allocates available salinity credits in a particular year, new site use approvals or variations to existing approvals in the low salinity impact zone may be refused or delayed.

Applications for new, or to vary existing, site use approvals in the high salinity impact zone may be approved if the development’s salinity impacts can be offset, or there is proof of significant commitment to the development at the proposed site prior to 30 June 2003.

To offset the salinity impacts of a development, the proponent will need to find a site use approval holder in the high salinity impact zone that is willing to reduce the maximum volume on their approval to offset the proposed increase in volume. This is referred to as a conjunctive site use approval.

In high salinity impact (salt interception) zones, site use approvals may be issued, or volume limits increased on existing site use approvals, provided the salinity impacts of the proposed water use can be managed within the available salinity credits allocated to the State of South Australia, to reflect the state’s share of capacity of the salt interception scheme servicing that zone.

When there are no salinity credits left for a particular salt interception zone, the process for the underlying salinity impact zone applies.

Site use approvals are also subject to relevant policies in the River Murray Water Allocation Plan, e.g. salinity impacts and water use efficiency, and are likely to be subject to technical and site assessments. 

What if I use River Murray water outside of the River Murray region?

If you own a River Murray Prescribed Water Course licence, you may use the water outside of the Natural Resources South Australian Murray-Darling Basin region. This will require the same authorisations as if you were using the water within the region.

If you do not own a River Murray Prescribed Water Course licence but use a third party delivery provider (such as SA Water or Barossa Infrastructure Limited) who access SA Water’s water allocation, you do not need water resource works approval or a site use approval. However, if you currently require an imported water permit you will continue to require the imported water permit.

Who can apply for a works approval?

In order to construct any works you will need legal access to the land.

The water resource works approval will generally state a time limit of 12 months for the construction of the approved works and a requirement to notify the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources when construction is completed.

The approval can cover the ongoing operation and maintenance of works. Therefore, water resource works approvals for these aspects can be ongoing.

Can I transfer a water resource works approval?

A water resource works approval is not transferable because it applies to a specific site and is attached to the land.

It is possible to change the name on the water resource works approval, e.g. when land is sold, leased or there is a change in lease.

The current holder of the water resource works approval needs to apply to vary the name, similar to an application to vary the name against the registration of a car when a car is sold.

Can I change a water resource works approval?

You can apply to vary a water resource works approval, e.g. to add locations from which water will be taken, or new extraction infrastructure.

In such cases, new technical or site assessments may be required and a fee will apply. Your application will be assessed against the relevant policies in the water allocation plan, e.g. about the location of pumps on backwaters.

You can also apply to vary the name of the water resource works approval holder when land has been sold or the lease has changed. The current holder of the water resource works approval needs to apply to vary the name, similar to an application to vary the name against the registration of a car when a car is sold.

Changes to the works approval can also be made by the Minister in limited circumstances such as a change to the water allocation plan or where the Minister considers the variation necessary to more effectively regulate the taking of water from the resource in accordance with the relevant water allocation plan and the Natural Resources Management Act 2004, or in accordance with the objects of the River Murray Act 2003 or the Objectives for a Healthy River Murray under that Act.

Administrative amendments can also be made, such as correcting an error or changing the contact details on the water resource works approval.

What happens if the land on which the works are situated is sold, leased or if there is a change of occupancy?

The current holder of the water resource works approval needs to apply to vary the name, similar to an application to vary the name against the registration of a car when a car is sold.

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