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What's the difference between a water access entitlement and a water allocation?

Water access entitlements and water allocation are the two main tradeable water rights in the River Murray. The difference between them is outlined below: 

Water access entitlement 

A water access entitlement is an ongoing right to an exclusive share of water from a water resource (named a ‘consumptive pool’) as defined in the relevant water management plan (known as a ‘water allocation plan’). 

In South Australia, the water entitlement share is specified on a water licence. 

In the River Murray, each unit share may equate to a maximum of 1 kilolitre (kL = 1000 litres), and may be less depending on water availability. 

A water entitlement is a property right that can be transferred independently of a water allocation. 

The transfer of a water entitlement is commonly referred to as ‘permanent’ trade, although entitlement transfers can be:

  • for all or part of an entitlement
  • to change owners
  • for a defined period (i.e. a temporary lease arrangement). 

A temporary lease arrangement passes the benefits and responsibilities associated with holding the water entitlement from the seller to the buyer for the agreed period (30 June in the specified year). After that period, the entitlement will return to the original holder.

Water allocation 

A water allocation is the right to access a volume of water for use or trade in the water year (1 July to 30 June):

  • The volume of water allocated to a water access entitlement share is determined in accordance with the annual River Murray Water Allocation Framework
  • The allocated volume can change depending on the water that is made available in the relevant consumptive pool by the Minister
  • The allocated volume is first determined on the water licence and is then credited to the relevant water account
  • A water allocation is a property right that can be transferred independently of a water entitlement
  • A water allocation can also be obtained via a water allocation transfer or from unused water from the previous water use year (known as ‘carryover’ allocation)
  • The transfer of water allocation is the transfer of the right to access a volume of water from the seller to the buyer
  • Once a transfer has been approved, the water allocation is credited to the water account of the buyer and is then available for use, trade or potential carryover
  • The transfer of water allocation is commonly referred to as ‘temporary’ trade
  • You can only transfer water allocation that has not been used in the current water use year. 

Example of the difference between a water access entitlement and a water allocation 

An entitlement holder could have a water access entitlement of 100,000 shares. If full allocation equates to 1 kilolitre per share, then at full allocation the entitlement holder has access to 100,000 kilolitres (100 ML). However, when low rainfall leads to a reduction in the volume of water available to the consumptive pool, then the Minister may need to make allocations at a reduced rate. If the reduced rate is say, 50 per cent allocation (instead of 100 per cent), the entitlement holder continues to hold 100,000 shares but the value of each share is 0.5 kilolitre, giving the entitlement holder access to 50,000 kilolitres of water (or 50 ML) in that year. 

What is a water licence? 

For holders of River Murray water access entitlement shares, the ownership of shares is endorsed on a water license. The water license specifies:

  • Name of holder and contact details
  • Water resource
  • Date of issue and expiry (if relevant)
  • Dates of any variation e.g. transfers in, transfers out and temporary transfers (leases) including number of unit shares, their class and date of return
  • Water access entitlements including
  • Number of unit shares
  • The consumptive pool to which the shares relate
  • Class of entitlement 

What is a water account? 

A water account operates much like a bank account, except that it relates to water allocation instead of money. That is, a water account specifies how much water allocation you have available for use or trade in the current water year, and the sources of the water allocation.

A water account may be credited with water allocation from different sources such as annual allocations under a water access entitlement share, transfer of water allocation, or from a carryover allocation. Each source of water allocation is identified separately, as is each new water allocation from the same source i.e. the Minister may announce regular ‘improvements’ to the opening (1 July) water allocation. The volume of water allocation associated with each improvement is specified on the water account.

A water account will be debited when water allocation within it is used or transferred out. Water use on the SA Murray is determined from:

  • meter readings for the use of water on land, which must be submitted to the department on a quarterly basis; and
  • transfer of water allocation.
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