Topics > Water > Water resources

Rivers and reservoirs

Water in our streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, dams and wetlands is known as surface water. Surface water systems are replenished by rainfall and when groundwater discharges to the surface.

Surface water across South Australia provides drinking water, water for agriculture and industry, and supports recreation and tourism. Surface water also maintains important cultural sites and a healthy environment.

Low rainfall means South Australia’s ability to capture water is limited and we rely on the highly-regulated River Murray system for much of our water.

Many of the surface water resources across the state are prescribed and managed through a water licensing system to make sure water is used sustainably. Find out more about how our water resources are managed.

To take pressure off our surface water and groundwater systems, including the River Murray, alternative water sources like desalinated seawater, recycled stormwater and wastewater are being used more across the state.

River Murray

The River Murray provides drinking water for metropolitan Adelaide and many regional towns across South Australia, as well as supports industrial use and irrigation. Water from the River Murray also supports important floodplains, wetlands and ecosystems along the length of the river.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan sets out how much water can be taken and used from the River Murray. Sustainable limits make sure water is shared between water users and the environment.

Find out more about the River Murray and how it is managed.


Reservoirs throughout the Mount Lofty Ranges catchment area are an important source of water for metropolitan Adelaide. As well as storing runoff from the Adelaide Hills, the reservoirs store water pumped from the River Murray to supplement Adelaide’s water supply.

At full capacity, the reservoirs hold about 200,000 megalitres of water (or a little less than one year’s supply for metropolitan Adelaide).

The volume of water stored in the reservoirs relies heavily on rainfall in the Mount Lofty catchment and water pumped from the River Murray.

South Australians in regional areas get their water via one of the large pipelines from the River Murray, from small rural reservoirs or from local dams and groundwater bores.

For more information about South Australia’s reservoirs - and the Hume and Dartmouth reservoirs in Victoria that play a vital role in maintaining flows to South Australia, visit the SA Water website.