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Managing River Murray water resources during the current dry conditions

Large parts of South Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin have been declared drought affected.

In dry years, Basin states/the ACT and the Australian Government work closely together to ensure farmers, communities and the environment all receive a share of the available water.

Water sharing plans within each state/territory help make tough decisions at a local scale and special accounting arrangements are also in place around critical human water needs and other priorities when drought conditions become severe.  

River Murray water resource availability to South Australia is determined by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and is dependent on a range of factors, including the volume of water delivered for consumptive demands to all states/territory, transmission and storage losses, water reserves and future inflows from rainfall.

After two consecutive years of low rainfall and low inflows across the Murray-Darling Basin, as at 26 September 2019 the volume of water in storage is at 44 per cent capacity. This compares to the long-term average at this time of year of 80 per cent capacity. 

PIRSA is leading South Australia's drought response, working with industry, the Australian and local governments, other agencies and support services to help farm families, farm businesses and rural communities to prepare for and manage the drought conditions. DEW is leading the management of water availability and water resources operations in the River Murray.

The South Australian Government is supporting River Murray irrigators to better prepare for the season ahead by providing early water allocation and private carryover announcements and tools such as flow reports and water availability projections.

How has River Murray water management improved since the Millennium Drought?

South Australia learnt from the Millennium Drought, putting us in a better position to manage water during dry times.

The water allocation plan for the River Murray has been updated and it includes rules around how water is allocated, private carryover, trading, and the take and use of water.

In line with new rules in the updated water allocation plan, private carryover was announced in mid-April 2018 because opening allocations for 2019-20 were projected to be less than 50 per cent. This approach to private carryover reflects the feedback from key industry representatives during consultation on the draft water allocation plan for the River Murray in mid-2018.

The water allocation plan locks in a commitment to reduce Adelaide's reliance on the River Murray by 50 gigalitres in dry years, in recognition of Adelaide's access to other sources of water. Compared to the Millennium Drought, the commitment boosts irrigation allocations by 8 per cent in dry years and applies whenever irrigators are on allocations of less than 100 per cent.

Adelaide now has access to a wider range of resources including water from the River Murray, Mount Lofty storages, Adelaide Desalination Plant, water recycling, aquifer storage and recovery and there has been a substantial increase in the number of household rainwater tanks.

South Australia has secured formal access to upstream storages, allowing water to be stored for irrigation (private carryover) and critical human water needs in dry years, where less than full Entitlement flows are received.

Currency Creek, Jervois and Lake Albert pipelines have been constructed to provide an alternative supply of water for irrigators and stock and domestic users during periods of reduced water availability and quality.

The South Australian Government is working with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Australian, New South Wales, Queensland, Victorian and Australian Capital Territory governments to ensure that the Basin Plan is implemented.

Environmental water from a range of sources, including that recovered through the Basin Plan, is now available to support the river and its environmentally important wetlands in South Australia.

The water market has matured significantly. Water trade allows for the redistribution of water among users and is an important mechanism for managing the Murray-Darling Basin's scarce water resources. In addition to local water allocation and entitlement markets, individuals can now source water from a range of water products such as interstate entitlements, forwards, entitlement leases and carryover parking. 

Deferred water for a future year

Under the Agreement, South Australia may store some of its Entitlement in upstream storages to meet critical human water needs and private carryover in future years.

This water comes from the unallocated portion of South Australia’s Entitlement, and helps to provide additional water security for a future dry year, when South Australia may not have enough water to meet all needs.

Setting aside a relatively small volume of water before conditions get dry reduces the impacts of a dry year on water users and the environment.

When deferred water is delivered in a dry year, this has benefits to all water users, third parties and the environment.

Private carryover may be granted to South Australian water users in a year when minimum opening allocations are projected to be less than 50 percent. Further details can be found here and in the River Murray Water Allocation Plan.

Any water that is delivered from storage to meet critical human water needs and private carryover must be used in a manner that is consistent with the sustainable diversion limits under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Find out more about New South Wales and Victoria's carryover arrangements.

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