The health of the Murray-Darling Basin is crucial to the wellbeing of Australian communities, industries and the environment. Over time, as our population and agricultural needs have grown, the amount of water being diverted from the river system became unsustainable and the health of the Basin began to decline.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan sets water recovery targets to bring the Basin back to a sustainable level of environmental health while continuing to support agriculture and securing the future of Basin communities.
On 22 February 2023, the Australian Government announced a strategic water purchasing program and framework to bridge the gap to achieve the sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) in 7 catchments in NSW, ACT and southern Queensland. To find out more, visit: Strategic water purchasing – Bridging the Gap 2023.
Water recovery targets
Current Murray-Darling Basin water recovery targets were determined through years of research and analysis based in:
- environmental science
- social and economic analysis
- historical data analysis
- and modelling of future scenarios.
This research and analysis identified a maximum amount of water that could be diverted from the Basin while maintaining environmental sustainability – this is called the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL). Water recovery targets were then set by comparing the Sustainable Diversion Limit to a baseline.
Baseline Diversion Limits (BDL)
Baseline Diversion Limits are estimates of how much water was used in the Basin prior to the Basin Plan. Over the years diversions fluctuate due to changes to consumptive needs and unpredictable inflows. BDLs provide an estimated average of the amount of water diverted from the Basin each year historically.
Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL)
Sustainable Diversion Limits are the maximum amount of water that can be diverted from the Basin for consumptive use while maintaining environmental sustainably. SDLs are calculated as a long-term average and take into account modelling of future Basin climate and conditions.
By comparing the BDL and SDL it was clear that there was a gap between the average amount of water diverted from the Basin each year and the Sustainable Diversion Limit. This gap became the Basin Plan’s primary water recovery target of 2,750 GL per year.
450 GL for enhanced environmental outcomes
The Basin Plan also includes a provision to recover 450 GL / y for enhanced environmental outcomes. This is on the condition that there are neutral or positive socio-economic impacts from the water recovery.
How is water recovered
There are a number of different ways water is recovered towards the two Basin Plan targets. These include:
‘Bridging the gap’
Target: 2,750 GL / y
- infrastructure investments
- water purchases
- northern Basin Toolkit measures
- supply and constraints measures.
450 GL for enhanced environmental outcomes
Target: 450 GL / y
- efficiency measures with neutral or positive socio-economic impact.
Each of these measures approach water recovery in different ways with the goal of achieving environmental outcomes for the Murray-Darling Basin.
Benefits and outcomes
When water is recovered towards these targets it is transferred to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to be used for environmental outcomes that ensure the sustainability of this precious resource and the animals and plants that rely on it.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder puts environmental water to use as outlined in their water management plans.
Many communities and industries depend on the Murray-Darling Basin for their livelihood and wellbeing. The Australian Government is committed to putting communities and jobs at the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to achieve a sustainable and certain future for the Basin, its people, industries and the environment.
The Government’s role water recovery
We are primarily responsible for funding water recovery measures in the Murray-Darling Basin and includes:
- The Water Division – who provide policy and program funding for water recovery initiatives
- The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office – who manage the storage and delivery of water for the environment when and where it is needed
- The Inspector General of Water Compliance – who ensures compliance with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Other Government bodies that play a role in Murray-Darling Basin water recovery include:
- The Murray-Darling Basin Authority – who, in combination with us, are responsible for reporting progress on water recovery and Basin Plan effectiveness
- Basin State Governments – who deliver water recovery projects throughout the Basin.