Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Irrigation farmers support and respect sustainable levels of water use in the working Murray-Darling Basin.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is an environmental policy initiative designed to reduce the volume of water extracted from river and groundwater systems to a sustainable level – the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL).  

The Basin Plan, in essence, involves the transfer of water from irrigation farmers to the environment. This has resulted in 1 in every 5 litres of water previously available for farming, now being transferred to the environment. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is now the largest water licence holder in the Basin, holding 28% of water access licenses in the southern Basin, in addition to river flows.  

Irrigation farmers support and respect sustainable levels of water use in the working Murray-Darling Basin. The Basin Plan has received global recognition as a world-leading policy mechanism for the management of transboundary river systems. However, it continues to be highly controversial given the impact of water recovery on communities, and implementation challenges. 

The Basin Plan is now midway through implementation, commencing in November 2012 and due for completion in 2024. SDLs are now in place, and most direct water recovery is complete, however, critical environmental projects which are required to best use the recovered water are yet to be completed.  

NSWIC works to ensure optimal implementation of the Basin Plan to maximise environmental outcomes and minimise adverse impacts on communities and our capacity to produce food and fibre. This involves seeking recognition that the remaining elements of the Plan present significant challenges and require increased flexibility in implementation, and greater adaptive management that acknowledges the issues facing the irrigation sector and Basin communities. 

One of the key next steps is the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM). The mechanism requires a suite of projects to be implemented to allow Basin Plan environmental outcomes to be achieved with less water.  The SDLAM is crucial to minimising the social and economic impacts of the Basin Plan in the Southern Basin, but also to ensure the water bought-back from irrigators to achieve maximum environmental effect.  

NSWIC strongly supports well-designed and locally supported SDLAM projects to achieve the equivalent of 650GL of water recovery as the most critical component to future implementation of the Basin Plan, providing the lowest risk to communities, and realising targeted environmental outcomes. Flexibility and adaptability for new and improved projects are essential to success.