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River Murray water allocations

  • Water allocations and entitlements vary from state to state meaning some entitlement holders can have an allocation, while others have little to none.

  • In drought, allocations are reduced the same way for all water users—including environmental water holders.

  • 2018 was the hottest year on record for the Murray-Darling Basin. The extremely low rainfall we have seen over the past two years has only occurred twice since 1900.
  • Sometimes water users don’t use the full amount of water allocated to them in a given year.  

  • The percentage of water that is allocated and not used varies year-to-year, and depends on climate conditions, rainfall, trade, infrastructure development and individual business decisions 

  • Sometimes allocations aren’t used because people choose to carry their water over to the following year, or the year after that, as a strategy to get through dry times

  • Irrigators can also opt to sell the allocated water that they do not use.  

  • Only a very small amount of water allocated is not used or sold.   

River Murray Water allocations

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority operates the River Murray on behalf of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Under the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority determines the amount of water available to each state each year.

Water allocations, water orders and the delivery of water work in a different way from state to state and will continue to do so. The MDBA is not involved in making allocations to individual entitlement holders, as this is managed by state governments.

River Murray water allocations, water orders and delivery


Key facts

State governments provide an allocation of water to their entitlement holders.
Allocations can change as the year progresses, as more water flows into the dams.
Each state has different rules and requirements about how water is allocated, and in what order allocations are prioritised. 
To access water in the River Murray, an entitlement holder places a water order directly with their state water agency.

The time it takes for water to be delivered can depend on the entitlement holder’s position along the river.

The MDBA schedules releases so there is enough water in the right part of the river at the right time to meet demand.


Differences between the state systems

Each state has their own unique suite of water entitlement products. For example New South Wales has high security and general security licences. In Victoria, there are high and low reliability water shares. South Australia has something different too. These products are different and not comparable.

Also contributing to the differences between water products in the River Murray system are state shares. Where rainfall occurs in each catchment drives differences in state shares and how much water a state has to allocate.

For more information on your state allocation approaches, contact your state water department.

Updated: 23 Apr 2020