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MurrAy Darling Basin Plan

The Basin Plan (2012)


The Murray Darling Basin Plan was first conceived in 2007, under the then Howard Government’s National Plan for Water Security and was subsequently developed and commenced in 2012. The basin states, QLD, NSW, VIC, ACT and SA signed over to the Commonwealth some their constitutional rights to manage water resources within their states. In return, the Commonwealth provided $13 billion to recover water and improve water management systems across the Basin.

The states continue to have responsibility for planning and administration of water resources, though they are now required to have their plans accredited by the MDBA to ensure they comply with the Basin Plan. 

Initially, in areas where exact water use volumes were not known, like both the NSW and QLD Border Rivers, an estimate of total water use was made to use in the planning and modelling for the Basin plan. This is known as the Baseline Diversion Limit (BDL). 


The MDBA conducted research into environmental requirements for the entire basin and over several years arrived at levels of extraction that prioritised the environment over productive use in all regions of all states across the basin. 


The Basin Plan set limits on extraction of water called Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL’s) expressed as Long-term Average Annual volumes and each state government is responsible for managing their use of the resource and not allowing use above the SDL.  


As all remaining types of existing water use, like NSW Floodplain Harvesting and QLD Overland Flow, are formally certified, metered and accounted-for, the SDL’s will be updated to include them. Compliance is also enforced based on the SDL’s over the long term. 


Water Resource Plans (WRP) are a key part of implementing the Basin Plan. They address the objectives of the Basin Plan at a regional level and ensuring the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) are not exceeded over time. Objectives include environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects. 


Under the Basin Plan, all state water management plans must be accredited to ensure they meet SDL requirements and to maintain overall integrity of management across the basin. 


Water Recovery

Water Recovery was an outcome of the Basin Plan. This time was pivotal as it marked the first time that governments agreed to buy water back from willing sellers at market prices. Previously, state governments had changed water licences and allocations at the stroke of a pen with no compensation paid to those who suffered the losses. Since 2008, the Commonwealth recovered approximately 2100GL of water entitlements across the Murray Darling Basin from previously productive use, with this water being owned by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and used for environmental purposes according to Environmental Watering Plans to build resilience and health of riverine ecosystems. 


The Border Rivers, were targeted for recovery of water to contribute to environmental requirements downstream. At the time, the Border Rivers had been found by the Sustainable Rivers Audit 2008 to be the healthiest working river in the Murray Darling Basin, second only to the untapped Paroo. The requirement for water recovered from the Border Rivers was to provide more flows downstream to the Barwon-Darling as we do not have any Key Environmental Assets in the valley, our key asset is the river itself. 

Inspector General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources 

After serious allegations were made about potential corruption and crime occurring with water management of water in the basin, an inspector general was appointed to oversee the compliance of the State and Commonwealth agencies and other bodies within the basin to the conditions of the Basin Plan.  More information can be found here.

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