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Water rights

In Australia access to and use of water is governed by statutory water rights administered by state and territory governments. This page outlines different types of water rights and their properties, including tradeable water rights, or water products. This page also provides a mapping of state and territory terminology to national terminology for water products and trading terminology.

The diagram and table below provides an overview of water rights in Australia.

Overview of water rights in Australia - described in full in the water rights table.
Water rights in Australia
Right Description Tradeability
Water access entitlement

The NWI definition of water access entitlement is:

A perpetual or ongoing entitlement to exclusive access to a share of water from a specified consumptive pool as defined in the relevant water plan.

The volume of water available to a water access entitlement may change if the amount of water available in a water management area changes. This may occur due to climate change or other environmental factors, and will ensure that over-allocation of water does not occur.

A water access entitlement can be represented on a water instrument. See Legal instruments

Tradeable with land in a bundled system, and without land in an unbundled system.

Water allocation

The NWI definition of water allocation is:

The specific volume of water allocated to water access entitlements in a given season, defined according to rules established in the relevant water plan.

A water allocation is announced for water access entitlements on a seasonal basis, dependent on how much available water exists in the water resource from which the allocation is drawn. This announcement is made by the jurisdictional government, or the water authority acting on behalf of the jurisdictional government. Water allocations will usually be announced as a percentage of the total share to which each water access entitlement holder is entitled. See the Water allocations page for links to current water allocation information.

Tradeable without land.
Riparian right A riparian right is a water right held by rural landowners for domestic, on-farm purposes. Riparian rights allow landowners whose property is adjoining to a body of water to make reasonable use of it, for purposes such as drinking water, domestic use and fishing. Generally tradeable with land, although in some jurisdictions the right may be extinguished when land is sold. Not tradeable without land.
Stock and domestic right

A stock and domestic right is a water right held by rural landowners for domestic, on-farm purposes. Stock and domestic means uses such as household purposes, watering of animals kept as pets, watering of cattle or other stock and irrigation of a kitchen garden.

Stock and domestic does not include use for dairies, piggeries, feed lots, poultry or any other intensive or commercial use.

Generally tradeable with land, although in some jurisdictions the right may be extinguished when land is sold. Not tradeable without land.
Water delivery right

A water delivery right is the right an irrigator has to have water delivered by an irrigation infrastructure operator (IIO) The IIO is an entity that operates water service infrastructure for the purposes of delivering water for the primary purpose of being used for irrigation.
 
Source: Adapted from Water Act 2007
  through the IIO's water infrastructure network.

Most irrigators that receive water or drainage services through the network of an IIO hold a water delivery right against the IIO in addition to an irrigation right.
May be tradeable within delivery systems.
Irrigation right

An irrigation right is the right to receive water from an IIO , which is not a water access right or a water delivery right.

Many irrigators, particularly in New South Wales and South Australia, do not hold a statutory water access entitlement. Instead, the IIO holds the statutory water access entitlement (often called a bulk entitlement) collectively on behalf of their member irrigators. Member irrigators hold a contractual irrigation right that entitles them to receive water from their IIO . See Water market rules, termination fee rules and transformation for details on water market reform as it applies to irrigation rights.

May be tradeable within the irrigation district.

An irrigation right can be transformed into a tradeable water access entitlement.

Native Title Anyone who holds Native Title with respect to water, as determined under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993, can take and use water for a range of personal, domestic and non-commercial purposes. This right is granted to a specific person or group of people for a designated location or locations. Not tradeable

Water access rights

A water access right is a right conferred under state law to hold or take water from a water resource. Water access rights include:

  • water access entitlements
  • water allocations
  • riparian rights
  • stock and domestic rights

As part of the National Water Initiative, the terms water access entitlement and water allocation are the nationally agreed terms. The states and territories may use different terminology for water access entitlements and water allocations. For state and territory specific terminology see the water products table on the Water products page.

Water access entitlements exist in both unbundled An unbundled right is the separation of a 'bundled' right into its individual elements. At its most basic level, unbundling separates water rights from a land property title, allowing the trade of the water rights independently of land.

Additional degrees of unbundling involve the separation of a water right into its individual elements. These might include, but are not limited to, water access entitlements, water allocations, water use rights, delivery rights and works approvals.
 and bundled  The aggregation of individual rights into a single right. These might include, but are not limited to, land property title, water access entitlement, water allocations, water use rights, delivery rights, irrigation rights and works approvals. systems, and are traded separately from land or with land accordingly. Water allocations are allocated to water access entitlements and can be traded independently of land in an unbundled system. Riparian water rights and stock and domestic water rights cannot be traded separately from land.

Permissions

Water users may also require works permissions and/or water use permissions in order to extract and use their water.

Works permissions allow the holder to construct, operate and maintain water supply works such as a pump, well or dam, or other works such as a bridge or a windmill. Water allocated to a water user under a water access entitlement cannot be taken without associated works permissions. Water supply works rights can be represented on a water instrument.

Water use permissions allow the holder to use water for specific purposes such as crop irrigation or large scale cattle feeding. Water allocated to a water user under a water access entitlement cannot be used without associated water use permissions. Water use rights can be represented on a water instrument.

Legal instruments

Water rights are administered through legal instruments. These may include water instruments, property titles, or contracts with IIOs.

A water instrument is a licence or permit that gives one or more water rights and/or permissions to its holder. Water access entitlements, water supply works rights and water use rights are rights and permissions that can be represented on a water instrument. In some jurisdictions these are referred to as approvals or permits.

Stock and domestic rights and riparian rights may be administered through a property title. Irrigation rights and water delivery rights are represented through individual contracts with the water holder's IIO.

Unbundling and transformation

For information on current legislative reforms governing water trading in Australia, including transformation of irrigation rights and water access entitlement unbundling, see Water market reform.

Carryover arrangements

Carryover arrangements allow water users to carry a percentage of their unused water allocation into the next water year 1 July to 30 June . This may provide some security for the availability of water in the next season. Under an announced allocation system with no carryover arrangements, any unused allocations at the end of the season are returned to the common pool and shared among all water users.

Carryover arrangements apply in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, and are detailed in the water resource plan for each area. See the State/territory rules page for links to water resource plans.