The Murray–Darling Basin is the largest system of waterways in Australia. It covers an area the size of France and Germany combined. That is more than a million km2. It is in the south-east of Australia. It includes rivers, lakes, wetlands, floodplains and dams in:
- New South Wales
- South Australia
- the Australian Capital Territory
It includes the Murray River, which is Australia’s longest river. It also includes the Darling River and 16 internationally recognised wetlands. The total length of the Basin’s rivers is 77,000 km.
While 2.3 million people live in the Basin area, the water resources are used much wider. More than 3 million people rely on the Basin’s rivers for many uses, including drinking, washing, running businesses, tourism and recreation.
Water from the Basin’s rivers is also needed for our environment.
Water needs to be managed carefully to meet all these needs, so that the rivers are healthy and can support future generations.
Murray–Darling Basin Plan
The water from the Murray–Darling Basin is an important resource to people, the environment and industry. The Basin experiences floods and extreme drought. There has also been an increased demand on the rivers and lakes of the Basin to support growing populations, farming and industry.
Water from the Basin’s rivers is managed by the Basin states (NSW, QLD, VIC, SA and ACT). The long drought from 2000 to 2010 highlighted that too much water was being extracted from the system, and not enough was left to look after the health of the river. Basin governments agreed to the Murray–Darling Basin Plan to return the Basin to health. The Plan is jointly managed between the Australian Government and Basin States.
The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is an independent agency responsible for monitoring and reporting on the Basin Plan.
The Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water (DCCEEW) has a range of programs to implement the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. Programs include recovering water for the environment.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) is part of DCCEEW. CEWH manages water returned to the environment under the Basin Plan, delivering it where and when plants and animals need it most, helping to restore the health of the Basin. You can keep up to date on CEWH’s activities by subscribing to their newsletter.
Why is the Murray-Darling Basin important?
The Basin is a source of water to 3 million people in and around the Murray–Darling Basin area, including extended areas such as Adelaide. It supports:
- the environment, including native animals
- agriculture and extractive industries
The Murray-Darling Basin is important to First Nations peoples culture and heritage.
There are over 50 First Nations communities that have lived within the Basin for thousands of years. The Basin includes sacred sites including burial mounds and campsites. First Nations people have a responsibility to care for waterways when caring for Country. Water is an important part of cultural identity and is used in ceremonies, and for fishing and hunting.
The Australian Government is committed to improving First Nations peoples access to water as well as ownership and management because it creates economic and employment opportunities for First Nations peoples.
Around 2.3 million people live in the Basin. Communities need water that is safe to drink and to use for household use such as washing and cooking.
The rivers and lakes in the Basin are important to local communities, including their businesses and schools. Water contributes to their lifestyle, recreation and wellbeing.
Water is essential to create a flourishing environment for plants and animals as well as people.
The Basin is home to many different ecosystems of plants and animals and has been for thousands of years.
It supports 120 species of birds and more than 50 species of fish. 31 frog species, 46 snake varieties, 100 types of lizards, 3 species of turtles also call the Basin home.
Healthy native plants help keep the Basin healthy by:
- filtering water, including reducing salt in both soil and water
- preventing wind and water erosion
- providing habitats for animals and other plants.
Economy and industry
Water is essential to a strong economy, both for Basin communities and for Australia as a whole. The Basin sustains jobs for a wide range of industries, including agriculture and tourism.
Water from the Basin helps in the production of $30 billion in agricultural production each year on average – more than one third of the nation’s food. 40% of Australia’s farms are within the Basin. Growing things like rice, grapes, cotton and milk need more water more reliably than natural rain can deliver. The Basin supports over 8,000 irrigated agriculture businesses.
The Basin attracts visitors from around the world for bushwalking, camping, swimming, fishing and bird watching. The tourism industry from the Basin is worth over $15 billion a year.