The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was developed to improve the river's health and its floodplains and increase the water available for the environment. This benefits the ecosystems, people and industries that rely on the Murray-Darling Basin across Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and South Australia. The Basin Plan was signed into law in November 2012 under the Commonwealth Water Act 2007.

At its essence, the Basin Plan sets limits on how much water can be taken from the Basin for irrigation, town use, industry or other purposes in the future while also protecting critical human water needs such as drinking water. These limits are called Sustainable Diversion Limits, or SDLs (Glossary), and they came into effect in 2019.

The Murray-Darling Basin

The Murray-Darling river system sustains towns, farms and communities and meets the cultural and spiritual needs of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians, for whom water is deeply embedded into many traditions and spiritual practices. In addition, it is home to abundant and diverse animal and plant life and supports thriving agricultural production.

Climate change, drought and other extreme weather events have decreased the amount of water naturally entering the river system. Humans are also changing the amount and location of water taken from the river.

The Basin Plan aims to ensure that water is shared between all users, including the environment, sustainably.

Map of Murray-Darling Basin

Map of Murray-Darling Basin, image credit: Murray-Darling Basin Authority

Key features of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Sustainable Diversion Limits set limits on how much water can be taken from rivers for towns, industries and farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin while keeping rivers and the environment healthy. Across the Basin, each of the 29 river catchments and 80 groundwater areas has its own limit.

The Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) (Glossary) is a way to change the 2,750 gigalitres (GL) target if we can achieve similar or even better environmental outcomes for the rivers, wetlands, birds and fish using less water. It’s a provision written into the 2012 Basin Plan and agreed by Basin States and the Commonwealth. In 2017, 36 projects that offset 605 GL of water recovery were agreed upon.

Victoria is a proponent or co-proponent of 22 of the 36 notified projects. These include environmental works projects delivered through the Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Program (VMFRP), constraints projects , rule changes and The Living Murray program.

Water resource plans are a key tool for implementing the Basin Plan. The Basin Plan requires all Murray-Darling Basin states, including Victoria, to prepare water resource plans that set out how we will comply with the sustainable diversion limits. The plans improve consistency and transparency in water resource management across all Basin States and are accredited by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Learn more about water resource plans, specifically Victoria's and refer to the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

Water for the environment. In 2012, the Basin States and the Federal Government agreed that 2,750 GL of water from across the Basin would be delivered to the environment through the Basin Plan to improve the health of the Murray Darling Basin.

In 2018 the Federal Government allowed up to 605 GL to be deducted from the 2,750 GL total by investing in projects that deliver the same environmental outcomes using less water. 605 GL of projects have been approved. States are now working hard to develop further and deliver these projects.

In the early stages of the Plan, most of this water came from buying water shares from farmers. Now, most water for the environment comes by making water use more efficient. The MDBA annually reports on the progress of the SDLAM projects across the Basin. Learn more about Victoria’s Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism.

An additional 450 GL can be recovered if there are no socio-economic impacts from doing so. A rigorous set of criteria was agreed upon in 2018 to ensure this.

Green Lake, Victoria

Green Lake, Image credit: Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP)

Page last updated: 26/10/22