Australia’s largest river system

The Murray–Darling Basin is Australia’s largest river system. The Basin is made up of multiple river catchments and takes its name from the longest of its rivers – the Murray and the Darling.

The Murray–Darling Basin covers 1 million km2 across 5 different states and territories:

  • most of New South Wales
  • some of southern Queensland
  • parts of South Australia
  • northern Victoria
  • all of the Australian Capital Territory.  

More than 2.3 million people live within the Basin, including people from more than 50 First Nations.

Overlay of the Murray-Darling Basin within a map of Australia against an aerial photograph of the Murray-Darling Basin
Sheep on paddock. Photo credit: Department of Environment and photographer John Baker

The Murray–Darling rivers are unique and critical. They provide water to people, plants, animals and communities. 

Healthy rivers are essential to: 

  • keep communities together and thriving 
  • create a flourishing environment for plants and animals
  • support the food and fibre industries that feed and clothe Australians.

How the Murray–Darling rivers sustain life

A healthy and sustainable river system is essential for keeping Basin communities together and thriving. The health of the rivers impacts our whole nation. 

The rivers:

  • provide drinking water for over 3 million Australians
  • support the production of one third of Australia’s food
  • supply water to make farmland more productive, an important sector that contributes over $8.5 billion to the Australian economy every year
  • are home to more than 50 First Nations who are the Traditional Custodians of this land, water and sky Country
  • provide jobs for a wide range of industries including agriculture and tourism
  • support 120 different species of waterbirds, more than 50 native fish species and millions of trees, some of which are hundreds of years old.


Photograph of a flying bird
Photograph of a dead tree with the sky lit up signifying hope for the future

But the rivers are struggling and the next drought is only a matter of time. 

Over the years, the health of the Basin has declined because of factors including increased water use and the impact of extreme weather.

Carefully managing the Murray-Darling rivers is essential to keeping the economy strong, protecting the environment, and sustaining livelihoods in our rural communities.

We need to act now to ensure the Murray–Darling rivers continue to support local communities, and sustain people, plants and animals. 

See about the Basin's environmental needs

Our plan to restore the rivers

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is critical. It sets out how we can restore the Basin’s rivers and wetlands while supporting strong regional communities and sustainable food and fibre production.

It sets targets for how much water needs to be returned to the rivers to keep them healthy. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan requires 3200 gigalitres (or 3200 billion litres) is returned to the rivers. So far 2100 gigalitres have been returned.

Read the Plan

Two people kayaking on the Murray River
Murray River, South Australia

Implementing the plan

The plan to manage the Basin's water includes:

  • limiting the amount of water we take from Basin rivers each year
  • giving water back to the environment to improve the health of our rivers and wetlands
  • infrastructure to modernise how we save and manage our water efficiently.

The Murray–Darling Basin Plan is a long-term $13 billion investment in Australia’s most important food bowl, its people and its environment.

Find out more

Supporting our communities

Recovering water for the environment will restore the Murray–Darling rivers but it can impact communities, both positively and negatively.

We want to provide support to minimise any negative impacts in the future. This includes funding support to those communities impacted by water recovery.

Read about the Sustainable Communities Program

Aerial photo of town near river
Photograph of a tap dripping

Engage with us

We regularly consult with communities on the implementation of the Basin Plan. 

Engage with us