Using transferable water permits has been identified by economists as a necessary tool to efficiently allocate water to its highest valued use. Australian governments have seized the concept and begun to provide mechanisms that separate rights to water from land ownership and allow flexibility to trade the rights. Water trading is slowly taking shape but has been challenged regarding ownership rights and technical applications. Several key studies and projects are now testing a similar process to be used to develop ownership and incentives for diffuse water pollution. This paper analyses how rights to water quantity and water quality are emerging, the policy tools being used, and current challenges for decision makers.