The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was developed to improve the health of the river and its floodplains by putting aside water for the environment. The Basin Plan was signed into law November 2012 under the Commonwealth Water Act 2007.

The Basin Plan sets limits on how much water can be taken from the Basin for irrigation, drinking water, industry or for other purposes in the future – these limits are called Sustainable Diversion Limits, or SDLs (Glossary). The SDLs come into effect in 2019.

Water for the environment

The Basin states (Glossary) and the Federal Government agreed that 2,750 gigalitres (GL) of water from across the Basin will be delivered to the environment:

  • most of this water comes from buying water shares from farmers, and by making water use more efficient.
  • up to 650 GL can 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

An additional 450 GL can be recovered if there are no socio-economic impacts of doing so.

Victoria’s share of the total water target (2,750 GL) is 1,075 GL.

How the water is used

The water is being used to improve the health of the Basin’s:

  • rivers
  • wetlands
  • floodplains
  • plant and animal habitats

We’re already seeing some exciting environmental outcomes for river, wetland and floodplain ecosystems – like recent waterbird breeding events at Barmah Forest

Water for the environment has important social, cultural and economic benefits. It supports recreational activities like fishing and boating, sustains Country for Traditional Owners and improves water quality for farmers.

Water Resource Plans

The Basin Plan aims to achieve healthy, working rivers that support productive and resilient water-dependent industries, healthy and resilient ecosystems and communities with access to sufficient and reliable water supplies.

The Basin Plan requires all Murray-Darling Basin states, including Victoria, to prepare water resource plans by June 2019.

The Murray-Darling Basin contains 20 surface water and 22 groundwater water resource plan areas, as well as six combined surface water and groundwater water resource plan areas.

Victoria has five water resource plan areas—three surface water and two groundwater. These are:

  • Victorian Murray water resource plan area (SW2).
  • Wimmera–Mallee (groundwater) water resource plan area (GW3).
  • Northern Victoria water resource plan area (SW3).
  • Goulburn–Murray water resource plan area (GW2).
  • Wimmera–Mallee (surface water) water resource plan area (SW4).

The Wimmera-Mallee Water Resource Plan (for SW4 and GW3 above) was submitted to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) for formal assessment on 22 February 2019.

Victoria’s North and Murray Water Resource Plan (for SW2, SW3 and GW2 above) was submitted to the MDBA for formal assessment on 30 April 2019.

History of Basin management

Before the introduction of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the Commonwealth, Victorian, New South Wales and South Australian governments managed the Basin under:

  • the 1915 River Murray Waters Agreement, and
  • the 1987 Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, which included the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland

In 2007 the Commonwealth Government took on a greater role in Basin water management by passing the Water Act 2007 (the Act). The Act integrated the management of Basin water resources, including new limits on how much water can be taken from the Basin's surface and groundwater systems.

The Act established the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to prepare a Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

More information

Page last updated: 03/12/21