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South Australia’s Water Management

What was South Australia’s irrigation water consumption in 2019-20?

In 2019-20, total irrigation use within South Australia was approximately 390 gigalitres (GL) (to the nearest gigalitre).

Where can I find more information on South Australia’s irrigation water consumption?

South Australia’s River Murray water use is reported each year in accordance with the legislative requirements of the Water Act 2007 (Cth), Murray-Darling Basin Agreement and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Under the Basin Plan, a new water accounting and compliance framework to implement the new sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) began on 1 July 2019.

Since 2012-13, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has prepared annual Transition Period Water Take Reports, which provide details on the consumptive and environmental water entitlements held, available and used in each state.

How much water is held on South Australia’s Class 3 (High Security) licences?

The 2019 Water Allocation Plan for the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse (River Murray WAP) established 607,798,212 Class 3 (High Security) water access entitlement shares within an All Purposes consumptive pool. In any given year, a maximum allocation of 1 kilolitre (kL) per share may be made and as such, these shares equate to holdings of approximately 607.8 GL.

More information can be found in the Water Allocation Plan for the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse.

What water allocations are actually held on those licenses?

Each year, water allocations are made against the entitlement shares held on each licence in accordance with the River Murray WAP. These allocations are put onto a water account held by the licence holder.

On 17 August 2020, allocations against Class 3 (High Security) entitlements reached 100 percent for the 2020‑21 water year, equivalent to 607.8 GL.

DEW has published Historical Water Allocations since July 2002.

What is the minimum allocation against Class 3 (High Security) entitlements in times of severely limited water availability?

The River Murray WAP includes the principles and policies in place to ensure the sustainable management of the River Murray in South Australia. This includes the principles for the granting of water allocations when South Australia is receiving less than the full Entitlement of 1850 GL under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

The River Murray WAP provides a minimum 2 per cent allocation against Class 3 (High Security) and Class 8 entitlements each year, as permitted under clause 88A of the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. Following this, the water available to South Australia must reach 850 GL before allocations against these entitlements increase.

The 850 GL threshold reflects South Australia’s decision to reduce Adelaide's reliance on the River Murray by 50 GL in dry years. This was done in recognition of Adelaide's access to other sources of water. Compared to the Millennium Drought, the commitment boosts irrigation allocations by 8 percent in dry years and applies whenever irrigators are on allocations of less than 100 per cent.

What does ‘leasing’ water mean?

In South Australia, a “lease” relates to a long term formal (often contractual) arrangement whereby a water entitlement owner (Lessor) transfers their water entitlement to a Lessee for a specified period. For the duration of the lease, all the seasonal allocations and carryover functionality associated with the water entitlement is granted to the Lessee.

Can Class 3 (High Security) be leased out of South Australia?

Water entitlements (e.g. Class 3 (High Security) shares) can only be traded and leased within South Australia. Water entitlements may be “tagged” for delivery in another state but the entitlements themselves remain in the state of origin.

Only allocations made against the water entitlements may be traded interstate.

How much irrigation water is traded into and out of South Australia?

There are significant allocation volumes traded between South Australian water accounts and water users in New South Wales and Victoria each year. There is also a significant amount of allocation trade between account holders within South Australia.

In 2019-20, approximately 112 GL of allocations were traded into South Australian irrigation accounts and 88 GL of irrigation allocations was traded out – resulting in a net irrigation allocation trade into South Australia (trade IN minus trade OUT) of approximately 24 GL.

Approximately 39 GL of allocations was also traded out of South Australia for fodder production under the Commonwealth’s Water for Fodder Program (as a result of production at the Adelaide Desalination Plant), noting that this had a zero net effect on the River.

Individual irrigators within South Australia may own New South Wales or Victorian entitlements and then use the allocations in South Australia. DEW does not collect this information but does track when allocations from interstate licences are traded onto South Australian accounts.

Does the South Australian Government own Class 3 (High Security) water that it received from buyback initiatives?

The Minister for Environment and Water holds approximately 51.6 GL of Class 3 (High Security) water entitlements as held environmental water (HEW), which was predominately acquired as part of The Living Murray Program. This is used for environmental outcomes under The Living Murray Program.

Further details on the HEW entitlements in South Australia is available through the following link to the DEW website: Water for the Environment. The HEW register also includes HEW held within other entitlement classes.

How do Barossa and Clare Valley irrigators receive water from the River Murray?

Barossa Irrigation Limited and the Clare Valley Region Water Supply Scheme provide irrigators in the Clare and Barossa valleys with an additional water supply source. Both schemes have commercial arrangements in place with SA Water that allow the use of SA Water infrastructure to access water from the River Murray. These are the two largest private users of SA Water infrastructure. However, there are many other entities or individuals that have such arrangements with SA Water. This is known as third party supply and is a commercial arrangement between SA Water and the relevant entity.

In order to access third party supply, the diverters must have the relevant volume of River Murray allocation available on their water account. In the case of Barossa Irrigation Limited and Clare Valley Supply Scheme, these entities hold a portfolio of River Murray entitlements and supply their customers using a combination of held entitlements, long term leases and allocation purchase on the open water market.

How much more water is South Australia obliged to find to satisfy its SDL? How does SA expect to satisfy this requirement?

South Australia’s component of the Basin Plan water recovery target was 183.8 GL per year. This has been reduced to 131.8 GL per year through the ongoing implementation of SDL supply projects under the Basin Plan SDL adjustment mechanism.

South Australia is not currently required to recover any more water to ‘bridge the gap’ to meet its SDL.

How many more hectares of greenfield irrigation developments have received site approval in South Australia?

In 2019-20, approximately 1,500 hectares (ha) of new “greenfield” irrigation development received site use approvals. However, it is unknown whether these new developments will create an increased irrigation demand in South Australia. Although new site use approvals have been granted, development does not always proceed. Should the development proceed, other irrigation areas within South Australia may be retired and the associated water transferred to the new development.

There is therefore not necessarily a link between new site use approvals being granted, increased development and increased irrigation demand. Given a long lead time for setting up a new development, approvals may be attained well in advance of planting. In the meantime, other areas may be retired from irrigation and water rights transferred.

Has there been an increase in irrigation water demand in South Australia, particularly from greenfields irrigation developments, and does this pose an increased delivery risk?

In 2019, the MDBA released a report prepared by Sunrise 21 that documented irrigated crop areas within the Southern Connected Murray-Darling Basin. This report compared irrigation development changes between 2003 and 2018 through analysis of updated aerial land use mapping. Compared to 2003, irrigated area in South Australia has only increased by 1,738 ha or less than 5 percent.

An increase in irrigated area does not directly correlate with an increase in irrigation demand as there may be improvements in irrigation efficiency or crop changes allowing the additional area to be irrigated with less water.

How an irrigator chooses to secure water for a greenfields development is an individual investment decision that will take into consideration a range of factors including, but not limited to, the amount of capital available, risk appetite and crop type. If an irrigator makes a decision to rely solely on the temporary market and not hold any water entitlements, an irrigator must then decide what water product to purchase.

If a South Australian irrigator decides to buy temporary allocations from within South Australia, then this water will continue to be delivered as part of South Australia’s Entitlement Flow under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement. It has the same delivery security as all other South Australian River Murray allocations. If annual allocations are sourced from interstate, then this water will be delivered to South Australia by the MDBA in accordance with trade delivery protocols.

Despite the above, South Australia has been working with New South Wales, Victoria and the MDBA to manage delivery risks in the River Murray system. A number of studies have already been undertaken to better understand the risk of delivery shortfalls in the lower Murray system (from the Barmah Choke to the barrages) and the results of these are expected to be released publicly.

Regardless of any work done to reinstate or increase the capacity of the River Murray system, the difference between a one-week weather forecast and the three-to-four-week travel times from the storages to the water users below the Choke, mean that there will always be an inherent shortfall risk. Lake Victoria provides a secure storage from which South Australia’s Entitlement can be delivered over summer, significantly reducing delivery risks to water users in this state.