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Policy and management response

Past initiatives

Conservation of water received early attention through, for example the Patawolonga River Improvement Act 1883 and the Water Conservation Act 1886. Pollution of underground water was managed through the Underground Water Preservation Act 1959, which was expanded 10 years later to introduce public involvement in the development of underground water management policies and their implementation. 

The Water Resources Act 1976 was the first integrated water resources management legislation in Australia.

Summary of initiatives

Below is a summary of initiatives, documented in SOERs since 1988, to help protect and improve SA’s water resources.


Substantial progress on an inventory of wetlands and floodplains

Controls introduced on wetland drainage.


Strategy to deal with toxic algae in the Murray Darling Basin

Stormwater used to increase local groundwater recharge

Licences for disposal of treated effluent from inland wastewater treatment plants to land

Statewide monitoring program in place, but no overall assessment of results since 1984

Prohibit creation of additional allotments outside townships in the Mount Lofty Ranges Water Protection Area

Restricted land division within townships in the Mount Lofty Ranges Water Protection Area

Restricted residential development outside townships in the Mount Lofty Ranges Review Area

Most non-conforming development prohibited outside townships in the Mount Lofty Ranges Review Area

Plans for integrated management of surface water in Barossa and Angas–Bremer areas

Alternative sources, such as Bolivar reclaimed effluent water, river water and urban runoff are being developed and irrigation efficiency improved to reduce groundwater extraction in the Northern Adelaide Plains

Willunga Basin proclaimed, under the Water Resources Act, to control underground water extraction

Plans to introduce efficiency in water use in the Upper South East through groundwater salinity management

Research and programs to manage pollution from dairies, abattoirs, saleyards and other industrial activities in the Lower South East

Technical assessment of sustainable yield of aquifer systems on Eyre Peninsula

Water Resource Management Plan for Mallee Area and research into salinisation of groundwater

New fee system to encourage water conservation

Establishment of Water Use Advisory Service

Introduction of transferable water rights to the River Murray linked to approval of suitable irrigation management plans

Initiatives for stormwater use, for example Salisbury Council’s wetlands

Discussion paper on the 1989 strategy for mitigation of marine pollution in SA

Improvement to treated wastewater quality and alternative uses, such as golf course irrigation, sludge air dried for fertiliser, landfills and mine rehabilitation

Addition of significant wetland areas to the parks system, including creation of a River Murray National Park, number of heritage agreements and joint management plans for wetlands

River Murray Wetlands Management Program

Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Plan


Catchment water management boards and related management planning and programs to improve inland waterways and reduce stormwater pollution of coasts

Cap on water diversions from the River Murray and initiatives to reduce input of nutrients and pollutants to the river

Water pricing based on actual usage to encourage water conservation

Legislative reform (Water Resources Act 1997) provides for transfer of resource management responsibilities to regional water management boards

Stormwater and effluent management provides increase in volume recycled

EPA codes of practice for stormwater management

Groundwater management programs to reduce adverse trends in quality and quantity, including statewide network of monitoring wells

Council of Australian Governments Water Reform Framework and related commitments, for example acknowledgement of the environment as a legitimate user of water.


Council of Australian Governments National Water Initiative providing national environmental flow criteria

National Water Quality Management Strategy providing a risk management framework and national water quality guidelines

South Australia’s Strategic Plan goal to restore environmental flows to rivers across the Murray Darling Basin

River Murray Act 2003, River Murray Improvement Program, River Murray Flow Management Strategy, Risk to Water Quality Audit and South Australian River Murray Salinity Strategy (2001–2015), as well as salt interception schemes and the rehabilitation of the Lower Murray Reclaimed Irrigation Area

Intent to prescribe water resources in the Mount Lofty Ranges

Mount Lofty Ranges Watershed Protection Strategy

Water allocation plans for existing prescribed resources

Wetlands Strategy for SA and adaptive management strategy for wetlands associated with the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Program, including the Coorong. Intergovernmental agreements for inter-jurisdictional wetlands

Environment Protection (Water Quality) Policy 2003 to protect water quality

Codes of practice for aquaculture, wharfs and marinas, and wineries

Review of the EPA State Ambient Water Quality Monitoring Program

Establishment of Natural Resources Management Boards extends water management state-wide

Public education campaign to conserve water

Waterproofing Adelaide program to provide a long-term plan for sustainable water use

Proposed legislation to mandate plumbed rainwater tanks in new homes

Greening of Government Operations Framework to improve water conservation by government agencies


Water for Good Plan (published in 2010) with 94 actions

Urban Stormwater Harvesting Options Study assessed stormwater harvesting potential

$150 million (shared) investment in eight stormwater projects

Water Sensitive Urban Design technical manual for Greater Adelaide released in July 2009, water sensitive urban design policies and targets in Water for Good and planning strategy

Rainwater Tank and Plumbing Rebate Scheme

Goals set to increase wastewater recycling from 30% to 45% by 2013, 50 GL/annum by 2025 and 75 GL/annum by 2050

Virginia recycled water pipeline extended to Angle Vale, Glenelg to Adelaide Park Lands Recycled Water Project and the Southern Urban Reuse Project

Local government statewide wastewater recycling project (8 GL/annum) for community wastewater management schemes

Rebates, water efficiency labelling, water conservation measures, and development and review of water allocation plans, including identifying key natural resources assets and their management

National Water Initiative provides for a return to sustainable levels of extraction, water markets and opportunities for trading, and best-practice water pricing

Murray–Darling Basin Reform Intergovernmental Agreement, signed on 3 July 2008, is a package of reforms including amendment of the Water Act 2007 to authorise MurrayDarling Basin Plan. This includes protecting and restoring wetlands and other environmental assets, prioritising critical human needs, extending water market rules and charging, and the associated role of the Australian Competitive and Consumer Commission

New system of water entitlements, as well as amendments to the Natural Resources Management Act in 2009 to replace the water licensing system and be consistent with the National Water Initiative and other Murray–Darling Basin states

Improve national coordination through participation in the National Water Initiative and Murray–Darling Basin Authority

Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Operational Plan and Implementation Strategy to improve coordination of monitoring, evaluation and reporting, including:

  • identifying monitoring requirements and coordinating activity between state agencies, natural resource management boards and other groups
  • identifying emerging risks to aquatic and coastal ecosystems
  • evaluating effectiveness of management interventions
  • reporting to stakeholders and the community on the impact of natural resources management investments
  • project to develop consistent approach for reporting on aquatic health across SA, including identification of priority and high conservation value aquatic ecosystems
  • establishment of SA River Murray environmental manager function to coordinate all River Murray flow decisions and actions (delivery, allocation, management, monitoring, reporting and accounting)
  • full cost recovery over time in line with Council of Australian Government and National Water Initiative agreements, as outlined in the 2008–09 Transparency Statement.

Natural Resources Management Act 2004 with prescribed water resources and water allocation plans treating commercial plantation forestry the same as irrigation allocations, Environment Protection (Water Quality) Policy 2003 to minimise pollution, Water Industry Act 2012 for independent regulation and consumer protection, and Water for Good Plan providing water security to 2050

Regional actions, including water allocation plans, regional demand and supply statements, SA Water planning and regional natural resource management plans

Murray–Darling Basin Salinity Agreement, Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative, South East REFLOWS project, Mount Lofty Ranges Waste Control Program and Lake Eyre Basin Agreement

Urban water management, including stormwater and wastewater management, and water sensitive urban design

Improved knowledge through the Goyder Institute, WaterConnect and aquatic ecosystem condition reports


More recent and current priorities


Australia is a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that include a number of goals with regard to water. These are to:

  • protect freshwater ecosystems
  • reduce water pollution
  • increase treatment and recycling of wastewater
  • improve efficient use
  • implement integrated water resources management.

When we compare relevant indicators for the SDGs with those reported in SA, we see SA is well placed to contribute to Australia’s reporting against the water-related SDGs, as shown in Table 15.

Table 15: Comparison of SDGs

United Nations indicator

Comparable SA measure

Proportion of wastewater safely treated

The majority of SA wastewater is treated. SA Water maintains 20 sewage treatment plants in the state's country areas and 6 sewage treatment plants in the metropolitan region. Some local councils also operate community wastewater facilities.

Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality

The EPA undertakes aquatic ecosystem assessments. The proportion within each category, on a scale of ‘very poor’ to ‘very good’, is presented in SA’s reporting.

Change in water-use efficiency over time

The ABS Water Accounts include water-use efficiency by state and territory and is included in SA’s reporting.

Level of water stress, in other words, freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources

The SA 2018 Water Management Trend and Condition Report Card report on the number of prescribed water resources with water allocation plans. The water allocation plans set sustainable use limits.

Degree of implementation (0–100) of integrated water resources management

South Australia does not have an equivalent quantitative score proposed by the UN. However, the following plans promote integrated management of SA’s water resources:

The proposed Integrated Urban Water Management Plan for Greater Adelaide will further contribute to this SDG indicator.

Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation

South Australia is a signatory to three major transboundary agreements for cooperation on water management:

Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time

Most of the waterbodies in SA are mapped, and some are distinguished based on their status, for example protection areas and Ramsar sites. There is no program to measure changes in extent. Reporting on the condition of aquatic ecosystems provides relevant information.


Another global agreement relevant to water resource management is the New Urban Agenda endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2016.

This Urban Agenda calls for long-term urban planning and development practices, which must:

  • incorporate integrated water resources planning and management
  • promote conservation and sustainable use of water by:
    • reducing and treating wastewater
    • minimising water losses
    • promoting water reuse
    • increasing water storage, retention and recharge.

These practices are reflected in SA’s commitment to develop an integrated urban water management plan for Greater Adelaide by 2018.


The Australian Government has a number of water-related roles through different agencies, including:


At a state level, responsibility for water management is shared between:

  • Department for Environment and Water with various roles for water planning, granting of water licences and allocations, preparing demand and supply statements, facilitating water markets and provision of water science to support water planning and allocation
  • natural resources management boards with responsibilities that include regional water planning, regional natural resources management plans and water allocation plans, granting of permits for some water-affecting activities, protecting groundwater and monitoring and evaluation
  • SA Water for drinking water supply and wastewater management
  • Environment Protection Authority for protection of water from pollution, and rehabilitation and protection of groundwater from legacy pollution. A science plan sets out the EPA’s program to monitor and assess water quality and aquatic ecosystem health. The EPA prohibits the use of groundwater in specified areas and leads the Catchment to Coast project to improve coastal water quality
  • SA Health to ensure wastewater adheres to standards for safe collection and treatment, and disposal or reuse
  • Local government, which has a role in stormwater management and in some cases, is a significant manager of stormwater recycling schemes. In addition, particularly in regional areas, local councils have responsibilities for wastewater management
  • Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to ensure planning for stormwater management in infrastructure design.

­In SA, all surface water and groundwater resources are managed through regional NRM plans, developed under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (NRM Act). The NRM plans aim to balance the needs of the community, industry and the environment. If a water resource is considered vulnerable or at risk of not meeting those needs, the resource is managed as a prescribed water resource under the NRM Act.

This involves determining existing use and estimating the capacity of the water resource to meet future economic, community and environmental needs. A water allocation is then developed to manage the resource sustainably into the future. Water allocation plans are moving towards an adaptive management approach that accounts for climate variability and future climate change.

Specific priorities were identified in the 2013 SOER, as shown in Table 16.

Table 16: Priorities identified in 2013 SOER



Continued investment in knowledge of water resources and risks to support policy development and management

The SA Government leads a number of water knowledge initiatives, supported by partnerships with research organisations, such as the Goyder Institute.

The EPA assesses and publishes results on aquatic ecosystem condition across SA.

Implement the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and associated programs, such as the Commonwealth Water Recovery Strategy in SA and across Murray-Darling Basin

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority has published progress on the Basin Plan and associated reforms in annual reports since 2012–13. The 2017 Basin Plan Evaluation concluded that the Basin Plan is working and on track. The evaluation identifies 3 key areas that need increased attention – the development of water resource plans, strengthened compliance regimes and better ways of measuring water take. The Murray–Darling Basin Water Compliance Review, released in November 2017, sets out the actions required to address these issues.

Ongoing development of water allocation plans for prescribed water resources across SA

Natural Resource Management Boards are responsible for creating and reviewing water allocation plans.

Since 2012–13, the SA Government has adopted new water allocation plans for the Eastern and Western Mount Lofty Ranges, amalgamated plans for Southern Basins and Musgrave and amalgamated a number of plans in the South East into one Lower Limestone Coast Plan. The government adopted Water Affecting Activity policies for Kangaroo Island, Alinytjara Wilurara, Eyre Peninsula and SA Arid Lands regions.

Ongoing investment to diversify SA’s water supplies

Wastewater and stormwater availability are largely unchanged since the previous report. The Adelaide Desalination plant is now available with 100-GL capacity.

The Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme is expected to add to wastewater recycling from Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Address issues concerning water and mining development

The SA Government took part in a review of the National Partnership Agreement on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development with a number of initiatives, in particular the Coal Seam Gas and Coal Mining Water Knowledge Program.

Develop water quality improvement plans for key areas of SA in particular, Adelaide Coastal Water Quality Improvement Plan (ACWQIP) and Mount Lofty Ranges Watershed Water Quality Improvement Plan

Many of the strategies in the ACWQIP are well-underway, with a package of projects to improve water quality from catchment to coast.


Develop blueprint for an integrated urban water management plan for Greater Adelaide

The SA Government released an issues paper in October 2014. The Stormwater Management Authority Strategic Plan 2015–2025 includes development of the plan as a key deliverable.

The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities assessed Adelaide’s progress towards a water sensitive city and released the Vision and Transition Strategy for a Water Sensitive Adelaide in December 2017.  

Ensure water protection and develop approaches to provide appropriate access to water for remote communities

SA Water provides services to 18 remote Indigenous communities in the state, where scheduled services, water quality monitoring, emergency responses to incidents and new consumer connections are managed.

Develop and use strategic forecasting and monitoring capabilities for water resources

Measures, such as well monitoring, are in place to monitor prescribed water resources and include assessment and preparation of groundwater level and salinity status reports for all critical prescribed groundwater systems.

Ongoing high-level water demand and supply assessments in natural resources management regions across SA ensure improved water security planning. Methods that are progressively more sophisticated predict water demands and avert future water shortfalls. Extended scientific evaluations on specific groundwater and surface water systems inform water allocation plans.

Use of markets and technology (such as real-time data apps) to improve information availability and data access for government, industry and communities

McLaren Vale self-assessment tool

A self-assessment and online application tool has been developed for McLaren Vale irrigators to assess applications for water trades. This has reduced the time taken to process applications. A 90-Day Project initiative developed the system in consultation with irrigators and the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association. This online tool allows water users to determine the likelihood of their application being successful before they apply.

Meter self reads

In recognition of water licence holders needing online tools to assist ‘on farm’ decision making about water management and trade, the SA Government introduced an online Water Usage Advice Statement rather like a bank statement. This is provided to licence holders who submit a meter reading and email address using the online form.

Well driller notification form

A licensed well driller can now meet their well driller licensing requirements by submitting reports either online, at home or in the field using a mobile device. This improvement also assists the SA Government to monitor well construction compliance.

Water market and trade information

The Department for Environment and Water website now includes a range of helpful information to improve understanding, access and involvement in SA water markets. The River Murray water market is Australia’s largest, and now has specific information about tradeable water rights, price history, trading opportunities, trading rules, water allocations and private carryover.