McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan

About the region

The McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area, commonly known as the Willunga Basin, encompasses the townships of Aldinga, Willunga, McLaren Vale, McLaren Flat and Kangarilla.

McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan

The region has a proud history of proactively striving for the sustainable management of groundwater resources and we continue to be impressed with the level of passion and expertise that exist in the region.

The groundwater of the McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area is managed under the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan (MV WAP). This is a groundwater only water allocation plan.

The McLaren Vale Prescribed Wells Area lies entirely within the traditional land of the Kaurna Nation.

Groundwater coming to the surface supports numerous wetlands in the region, with Blewitt Springs, Washpool, Aldinga Scrub and Maslin Creek Reed Swamp being significant examples. Base flow from groundwater supplements flow in a number of watercourses, which is significant during the drier months.

Grapevines make up 96% of the gross value of irrigated agriculture in the area and underpins a local economy based on winemaking and tourism. The McLaren Vale region represents more than $500 million in gross regional value to the State and national economy.

In the 2019-20 water use year there were 468 water licences with a total allocation of 6,488 ML. Actual use of licenced groundwater was around 5,000 ML, and stock and domestic use of water is estimated to use a further 200-300 ML/year of groundwater. The Willunga Basin Water Scheme (using recycled wastewater from the Christies Beach water treatment plant) currently provides an additional 7,120 ML/year for irrigation.

Downloads and links

Review of the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan

A water allocation plan must be reviewed (evaluated) on a comprehensive basis at least once every 10 years. The McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan (2007) was previously reviewed in 2011 without amendment.

Throughout 2021-2022, the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board worked with the community to review the Plan, completing the review in August 2022. We are very grateful for the hard work and commitment of the industry and community representatives who were part of the advisory committee.

The review adopted a looking forward / looking back approach, examining the success of the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan in achieving its objectives and assessing whether the plan remains appropriate for managing the resource for the next ten years. The main elements to the review process were:

  • A water allocation plan advisory committee consisting of industry and community representatives provided their views on a wide range of issues.
  • The Kaurna Nation were engaged through workshops and provided a statement about their interests.
  • A groundwater resource assessment report provided by the Department for Environment and Water.

The review found groundwater extraction to be well within the limits set. However, the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan requires amendment to address the following;

  • First Nations (Kaurna) interests are not recognised;
  • Rising groundwater salinity has been identified as posing a high risk in some localised areas;
  • Small long-term downward trends in the levels of some aquifers need to be better understood;
  • More information is needed to understand groundwater dependent ecosystems;
  • Rules are not able to be set at an aquifer or management zone level;
  • The plan lacks a set of overarching objectives; and
  • The current plan does not consider impacts of climate change.


For the full report detailing the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan Review:

For the full technical report detailing the status of groundwater resources:

Amalgamation of McLaren Vale and Western Mount Lofty Ranges Water Allocation Plans

The review considered the importance of integrating the management of groundwater and surface water resources, recognising their inherent connectivity. Currently the groundwater in the McLaren Vale and Willunga Basin area is managed in the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan while the surface waters of this region are managed in the Western Mount Lofty Ranges Water Allocation Plan.

In addition to the advice provided by the McLaren Vale Community Advisory Committee, the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board sought further community input on the issue by holding a community forum in August 2022. A summary report of the discussions had by community members who attended this forum can be found below, along with a Questions & Answers (Q&A) sheet that responds to questions raised by attendees to the forum.

The board subsequently made a decision to amalgamate the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan with the Western Mount Lofty Ranges Water Allocation Plan for the reasons outlined below:

  • As our understanding of water resources increases it has become more apparent that it is important to integrate the management of surface water and groundwater.
  • Surface water / groundwater interactions are complex. Rainfall and surface water flows recharge aquifers, while in other places groundwater discharges into springs or watercourses (also known as ‘base flow’).
  • All wetland and watercourse water-dependent ecosystems in the McLaren Vale region rely on a combination groundwater and surface water. In the dryer months, areas of steady groundwater discharge ensures the persistence of these ecosystems, while the variable flows from surface water drives the diversity. Both surface water and groundwater extractions have the potential to affect the health of water-dependent ecosystems.
  • Best practice approaches to water planning enable discussion of connected groundwater and surface water to occur at the same time within the same process. Policies relating to one resource can have an effect on the other resource.

The amalgamation will not take effect until a new Western Mount Lofty Ranges Water Allocation Plan is adopted. A review of that plan is now underway and this is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. The process of exploring both groundwater and surface water policy changes together for the McLaren Vale region will then commence, with community to be involved throughout this process. Until new policies are adopted, both the current (2007) McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan and the current (2013) Western Mount Lofty Ranges Water Allocation Plan will continue to operate.


Amendment to the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan

For the reasons identified above (see ‘Review of the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan’, above) an amendment to the current rules and policies of the 2007 McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan is required. Some findings of the review can be acted on now, whereas others need to be better understood and further investigations are underway. Regarding the ‘next steps’ in the process;

  • We will commence work with water licensees affected by identified salinity hotspots in November this year (2022).
  • Before possible policy changes can be explored, further investigation and information gathering is underway to better understand the trends in groundwater levels.
  • The process of exploring policy changes will commence in early 2024, and will provide opportunities for the community to be involved.
  • Until amendment is complete and a new set of policies are adopted, the current policies (including water allocations to existing users) will remain unchanged.

Monitoring and reporting

Ongoing monitoring of the groundwater covered by the McLaren Vale Water Allocation Plan is undertaken by the Department for Environment and Water and the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board. Results of this monitoring contributes to the production of annual status reports and informs the management of the region’s groundwater. The full list of groundwater status reports for this region are available from this page and then navigating through Hills and Fleurieu / Groundwater / Prescribed areas / McLaren Vale PWA. Direct links to the two most recent reports are provided below.

A wealth of other water resource related information is available by exploring the Department for Environment and Water’s WaterConnect website.


More information

Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board

(08) 8391 7500