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Regulating water resources

The South Australian Government is responsible for the efficient and sustainable management of water resources across the State.

A number of agencies deliver a range of water management functions including (but not limited to):

  • water planning and management and regulation of water markets (Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and Natural Resources Management (NRM) boards)
  • rural/bulk water supply and services (SA Water)
  • water quality (Environment Protection Authority)
  • water pricing and industry regulation (Essential Services Commission of South Australia).

The South Australian Government aims to balance the demands for water for consumption, the environment and other non-consumptive uses at three broad levels:

  • management and control of water resources on behalf of all South Australians
  • prescribing water resources, granting entitlements to water and setting sustainable limits and caps on use
  • providing individual rights to water

The Natural Resources Management Act 2004 provides a framework for the sustainable and integrated management of the State’s water resources including surface water (such as dams), groundwater (such as bores) and watercourse water.

DEWNR and regional NRM boards are the key bodies that administer water resource management provisions of the Act.

Water management frameworks are further defined through NRM planning including Regional Natural Resources Management Plans and water allocation plans for prescribed water resources.

How do I get a water licence?

DEWNR is responsible for issuing water licences to take water on behalf of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation.

When a water resource is prescribed, existing users of water have the right to apply for a water licence and be granted a volume of water based on an assessment of their historical or anticipated needs. The process for licensing water use may be at different stages for different prescribed water resources and some water resources may have volumes of unallocated water that may be made available for allocation in the future. For specific information about the water licensing process in your region contact your regional NRM Office.

If the licensing process in your area is complete, there is no unallocated water and you would like to acquire a water licence or allocation, you may look into purchasing these on the water market by engaging in water trade.

The transfer of water licence or allocation from one person to another is subject to rules under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 and the transfer principles of the relevant Water Allocation Plan that the water right relates to.

Importantly, in order to use water at a particular location in a particular manner a person must also have appropriate approvals (either in the form of a water resource works approval and/or site use approval, or conditions on a bundled water licence). Approvals may also be required to undertake certain activities that impact on water resources called water affecting activities.

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