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Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Overview of the Plan

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a coordinated approach to water management across the Murray–Darling area including South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

The Murray–Darling Basin is an area made up of two major rivers – the Murray River and the Darling River.

The Basin spans across New South Wales, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, and parts of Queensland and South Australia.

The Murray–Darling Basin covers over 1 million square kilometres of south-east Australia, and is home to more than 2 million people.

Developing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Government in the Murray-Darling region have struggled to decide how to share the water in the Basin. Since the 1860s there have been agreements about the extraction of water from the River Murray however it was difficult to find a happy solution between the competing water-users and states.

Significant progress was made from the 1980s onwards, however, the fundamental issue remained – too much water was being harvested or extracted from the Basin. It took a significant drought to expose the weaknesses of how water in the Basin was managed and to highlight the need for continuing reform.

As a requirement of the 2007 Water Act, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) had to develop the Basin Plan. The primary objective of the plan was to determine a sustainable limit of water extraction in the Basin. The Plan was passed through parliament in November 2012.

Understanding the plan

The Basin Plan determines the amount of water that can be extracted or taken annually from the Basin for consumptive use – urban, industrial and agricultural.

The Basin Plan is much more comprehensive than just determining a limit on water use, it also contains specific plans and frameworks to ensure:

  • Good quality water is delivered to people, businesses and the environment
  • Environmental water is used effectively
  • State governments are committed to the Plan
  • Communities always have access to drinking water
  • Water trade is efficient and fair
  • Implementation of the Plan is monitored and evaluated

Researching the plan

The development of the Plan required several years of research and analysis to understand how much water could be taken from the Basin for consumptive use without compromising key environmental sites (eg. the Barmah Forest) and key environmental functions (eg. sufficient water flow to ensure lower reaches of the River Murray are not saline).

The science behind the Plan was independently reviewed by Australian and international scientists.

The Plan also took into account a wide range of social and economic information.

It became clearly apparent that the reduction in water availability for human use would have an impact on communities, businesses and industries in the Basin. Analysis of the social and economic effects was conducted by the MDBA and other commissioned experts, to help achieve the best balance between water users and the environment.

Learn more about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan including the science behind it, the timeline, and more.

Visit the MDBA website