Topics > Water > Water licences and permits

Water markets and trade

Water markets

The South Australian River Murray is part of the southern-connected Murray-Darling Basin water market which is a connected water resource covering parts of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

The southern-connected Murray-Darling Basin is one of the most mature water markets in the world and is based on a 'cap and trade' system where the cap represents the total pool of water available for consumptive use and water can only move among licence holders, and to new businesses, by trade.

There are also a number of established and emerging water markets operating for other prescribed water resources in South Australia, including parts of the South East, the Mount Lofty Ranges and elsewhere in the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin.

The department is committed to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of water trade markets in South Australia and is continuing work on a range of initiatives to improve information provision and reduce barriers to trade.

Water trade

Water trade allows water to flow to where it can be used most productively, or has the highest value, through the redistribution of water rights including water licences, water access entitlements and water allocations.

Water trading has become a vital business tool for water rights holders, providing an effective way of managing changing use requirements, climate variability and reallocating water during prolonged periods of drought.

The trade of a water right can mean a transfer of ownership, a change of location, or both. Trade can also be undertaken on a permanent or temporary (i.e. lease) basis, and a person/s may seek to trade all or only part of their entitlement or allocation.

  • A transfer of ownership occurs when the registered holder of the water right changes from one person (the seller) to another (the buyer).
  • A change of location occurs when the location where water will be used is changed. The buyer of the water right may need to vary their license use conditions or relevant use approvals (site use approval or water resource works approval) depending on whether the transfer occurs in a bundled or unbundled water resource.

In general, the department approves trade applications provided: there is a sufficient volume of water available to trade; all associated fees, charges and debts have been paid; and the trade meets relevant trading rules and water allocation plan principles.

Trading rules and water allocation plan principles aim to ensure that water trade does not result in detrimental impacts to the environment, the water resource or other water users.

A record of all water trades approved in South Australia by the department, including price information (when provided), is publicly accessible for viewing and download through the South Australia's Water Register.

All statewide water licence and permit application forms, including those that facilitate water trade are available for download.

Read more about our related priorities