Topics > Water > Water markets and trade

Water licences and water accounts

What is a water licence?

A water licence authorises the use of water and details specific conditions related to the taking of your water allocation, within a specific prescribed area.

For licence holders who have water rights that are ‘unbundled’, such as those who have water access entitlement shares for the River Murray, the ownership of shares is endorsed on a water licence. The water licence identifies the specifics of your water access entitlement, including:

  • number of unit shares
  • the consumptive pool to which the shares relate
  • class of entitlement.

How do I get a water licence?

The department is responsible for issuing water licences to take water on behalf of the Minister for Environment and Water

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 Landscape South Australia Act 2019 and the transfer principles of the relevant Water Allocation Plan that the water right relates to.

Where can I find out more about my water licence?

You can check information concerning your water licence, or any other permit, allocation and/or approval that you hold relating to the access, take and use of water in South Australia by accessing the state’s Water Licence and Permit Register, which is publicly accessible through the department's WaterConnect website.

What is a water account?

An unbundled licence has a water allocation that can be considered like a water account, which operates much like a bank account, except that it relates to water allocation instead of money. That is, a water account specifies how much water allocation you have available for use or trade in the current water year, and the sources of the water allocation.

A water account may be credited with water allocation from different sources such as annual allocations under a water access entitlement share, transfer of water allocation, or from a carryover allocation. Each source of water allocation is identified separately, as is each new water allocation from the same source i.e. the Minister may announce regular ‘improvements’ to the opening (1 July) water allocation. The volume of water allocation associated with each improvement is specified on the water account.

A water account will be debited when water allocation within it is used or transferred out. Water use on the SA Murray is determined from:

  • meter readings for the use of water on land, which must be submitted to the department on a quarterly basis
  • transfer of water allocation.