Topics > Water > Water licences and permits

Right to take and use water

All water taken and used from surface water and groundwater resources in South Australia is regulated under the Landscape South Australia Act 2019. Under the Act, rights in relation to the ability of a person to take and use water include:

  • water licences and water access entitlements
  • stock and domestic rights (in locations where these uses are not prescribed)
  • Notices of Authorisation under s105 of the Act.

Water licences and water access entitlements

When a water resource is prescribed, the Minister for Environment and Water issues water licences (including to existing users) which provide the holder with an ongoing right to take water.

Once a person has a water licence with a specified volume or an entitlement share, they have a right to be allocated a volume of water. In some areas, a holder of a water access entitlement may also be entitled to carryover their water allocation to a future water use year.

Water users who choose to do business with government via mywater will now be able to see and manage their water entitlement and their annual water allocation online.

Unbundling of water rights

In 2009, amendments were made to the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (now replaced by the Landscape South Australia Act 2019) to meet requirements of the National Water Initiative to separate or ‘unbundle’ water rights and make the transfer of water rights easier.

The term unbundling refers to water-related rights being separated from each other. Unbundled rights are granted in separate documents which are outlined below.

  • Water access entitlement (water licence): A right to a specified share of available water.
  • Water allocation: A right to take a specified volume of water in a specified period.
  • Water resource works approval: A right to construct, operate and maintain infrastructure to take water.
  • Site use approval: A right to use water at a particular location.

Water rights relating to the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse, the Southern Basins and Musgrave Prescribed Wells Area and the Far North Prescribed Wells Area have been unbundled.

Transitional arrangements enable the ‘bundled’ licences to continue to operate.

This means that for all other water resources across South Australia, the licence holder’s rights for taking and use of water continue to be ‘bundled’ and are authorised in one licence. Licence holders who have been authorised (via a bundled licence) to take water in a transitional area will now be able to see and manage their water entitlement and their annual water allocation via mywater.

As water allocation plans are reviewed and amended over time, unbundling is considered. The decision around whether to unbundle water rights is made depending on how best to manage the water resource in consultation with local communities.

Stock and domestic rights

Landowners or occupiers who have access to water adjoining or on their land may be permitted to take water for stock and domestic purposes (without a licence). For example, this may include using water from a dam or well to water a domestic garden, for personal household use or for drinking water for stock not subject to intensive farming.

This right is defined under section 100(5) of the Landscape South Australia Act 2019 and a person does not require a licence or other authorisation to take and use water for these purposes. This means that when a water resource is prescribed, water can continue to be taken for stock and domestic purposes without a water licence, in the majority of situations.

However, in some areas, a water licence may be required to take water for stock and domestic purposes. For example, a water licence may be required to take water for stock and domestic purposes in the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse, the Northern Adelaide Plains and to take water from dams greater than 5ML in capacity in the Western Mount Lofty Ranges Prescribed Water Resources Area.

If you want to take water for stock and domestic purposes but do not have a water licence, you can contact your local Water Licensing office or Landscape Board for more information about the rules that apply in your part of South Australia.

Notice of Authorisation under s105 of the Landscape South Australia Act 2019

The Minister for Environment and Water may specifically authorise the taking and use of water from a prescribed water resource for a particular purpose via a notice of authorisation issued under section 105 of the Act (formerly s128 of the Natural Resources Management Act 2004). For example, general statewide authorisations apply for firefighting, road making and cultural water purposes while others apply specifically in respect of taking roof runoff or operating managed aquifer recharge schemes.

These rights are subject to the conditions of the notice of authorisation and may be ongoing or expire at a specified date.

Property status of water rights

Importantly, nobody owns water in South Australia. Rather, the Landscape South Australia Act 2019 provides rights in relation to the ability of a person to access, take and use water.

Riparian or common law rights to take water (e.g. water rights based on land ownership or possession) that may once have existed have been extinguished by the legislation.

Under the Act, water licences (including volumetric licences and water access entitlements) and water allocations are personal property that can be transferred independently of land.

These water rights may have a monetary value on the water market and some can be traded. Because they are a form of personal property right, some water rights created in accordance with the Act may be leased, bequeathed and used as collateral for commercial finance.

Land and water rights

In South Australia, all water licences have been separated from land (real property). While a person may choose to transfer a water licence in parallel with an agreement to transfer land, there are separate transfer processes and approvals required to affect the transfer of the water licence.

Transfers of land rights are executed through the land title system. More information can be found here.

Transfers of water rights are executed through the Water Register, which is administered by the Department for Environment and Water in accordance with the Landscape South Australia Act 2019.

Importantly, in order to use water at a particular location in a particular manner a person may also need to have appropriate approvals (either in the form of a water resource works approval and/or site use approval in unbundled areas, or as conditions on a bundled water licence).

In regions where water rights have been unbundled, other approvals relating to the use of water (water resource works approval and/or site use approval) are attached to land. Where there is a change in landholder, a change in approval holder needs to be sought to reflect this.

In regions where water rights have not been unbundled (transitional areas), conditions to use water are attached to water licences. These approvals thus, transfer automatically as a part of a relevant licence transfer application in transitional areas.

Approvals may also be required to undertake certain activities that impact on water resources called water affecting activities.