Murray Darling Basin

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Murray Darling Basin

The Murray–Darling Basin is the catchment for the Murray and Darling rivers and is composed of 23 river valleys extending from near Tambo in central Queensland to the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia. The Basin covers about 14 pc of the area of Australia, supports more than two million people, produces more than one–third of Australia's food supply, including over half of Australian cereals grown for grain and carries 28% of the nation's cattle herd and 45% of its sheep. The Basin includes 65% of Australia's irrigated agricultural land.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is the agency responsible for the integrated management of the water resources of the Basin and for preparing, implementing and reviewing the Basin Plan 2012 intended to achieve sustainable water use and environmental objectives and improved water security for all users. A key element of the Basin Plan is the setting of sustainable diversion limits (SDL) which are the maximum long-term annual average quantities of water that can be taken, on an environmentally sustainable basis, from the Basin and each water resource plan area within it. The long-term average SDLs take effect on 1 July 2019 and after that there will be a register to monitor cumulative take over time.

For surface water, the MDBA determined the Basin-wide SDL to be 10,873 GL per year, which represents a total reduction of 2,750 GL per year. Reductions in water use have involved voluntary 'buy backs' of irrigation entitlements, investments in irrigation modernisation and other water efficiency projects, and addressing infrastructure constraints on environmental water delivery. In addition to recovery of water within certain catchments, there is a further 'shared' or 'downstream' recovery of water that will be expected to ensure the overall health of the Basin's major trunk rivers (Barwon–Darling River to the Menindee Lakes for the Northern Basin). For the Northern Basin the original 2012 Plan included a total of 390 GL of water to be recovered for the environment, including a 143 GL shared component.

The improved information from the Northern Basin Scientific Work Program has resulted in recommendations by the MDBA to reduce the overall amount of water that needs to be recovered in the north and also broaden the focus to include complementary or 'non-flow' measures. The original Basin Plan and the subsequent northern review was informed by the Northern Basin Advisory Committee (NBAC) and consultation meetings and submission processes to which AgForce contributed.

Throughout the process, while desiring sustainable water use in the Basin, AgForce called for a minimisation of the socio-economic impacts on irrigation dependent communities from recovery of water and for the involvement of primary producers and local communities in the decision-making, including how to best achieve the recovery of water with the least social and economic impact plus the use of other non-flow measures, such as feral pest control programs, to achieve the desired environmental outcomes. 

The impact of water buybacks to date has been devastating for many irrigation dependent communities. It is vital that adequate Government resources are available to meet the adjustment challenges for affected communities and to cover the costs of Basin Plan implementation. AgForce also calls for an improved environmental monitoring program and efficiency improvements to be applied to achieving environmental outcomes.

Accomplishing a Basin Plan that successfully balances environmental and socio-economic outcomes for irrigation-dependent Basin communities requires a strong local consultation process and for governments to respect and respond to those views. AgForce will continue to work to ensure that member's interests are considered effectively during implementation of the Basin Plan.

A map of the Northern Basin showing the location of key catchments is shown in the Figure below.

Source: The Murray Darling Basin Authority

To read AgForce's recent Murray Darling Basin submissions please log in via the Members Login button (located at the top right of the screen).

Want to know more?

Click here to find out more about the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Visit the Murray Darling Basin Authority website to see the final Basin plan.

Read the National Farmers' Federation's submissions on the Basin Plan.

Useful links:

Murray Darling Basin

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